Committees And Their Agenda's

When creating any committee, it is wise to first analyze the entire structure of the board and determine whether that particular committee would add value. This outline helps boards determine whether an executive committee is a necessary tool for their organization. Most committees make provision in their constitutions for one or more co-opted members -that is members who are invited by the other members to join the committee. A committee will usually co-opt members who provide expertise missing in the other members, or who balance the membership in some way (gender, academic discipline, and the like).

A committee can be one of the most productive tools that an association has for goal achievement. Committees are also indispensable to the work of an association, enabling work to get done in the most efficient manner. But committees can also be incredible time sucks, eating up countless hours while not accomplishing much. According to Bain and Company, “At their best, committees are an efficient way of assembling people. They facilitate debate on important issues, and the can be effective forums for decision making. So the challenge is to manage committeees well; to get the most out of them while nipping their dysfunctional traits in the bud.*


When Committees Don’t Work

Committees don’t work well when there is:
1. Lack of long-term agenda.
2. Reliance on bad information.
3. Inability to focus on the right issues.
4, Poor involvement by one or more members.
5. Lack of clear purpose.

As Bain and Company so aptly put it, “Committees can benefit from many of the same approaches that make board meetings more effective: an overview by the committee chair at the beginning of each meeting, a strategic focus for discussions, prioritized agendas, annual calendar of committee meetings and major decisions, consent agendas, and evaluation of committee meetings”. *

When Committees Do Work
There are at least five elements to ensure committee effectiveness:
1. Written Committee Description. There should be a written description of what is expected of each committee to guide the chair and members. The description should summarize the purpose of the committee, its composition and selection procedure, and the specific duties of the committee.***

2. An Effective Committee Chair. A good committee chair needs to understand the content of the committee and have experience relevant to the work of the committee as well as proven leadership and people skills that will be essential if the committee is to work effectively. You want a good leader of people and process, someone who feels confident in guiding committee members to accomplish the task in a timely manner. The committee chair must also have confidence in the members, and put the committee’s success over his or her own goals. The good chair is one who can work with people, who can excite them to work together and draw out each members’ best skills.***

3. Effective Members Appointed. You need members who have been thoughtfully appointed. They should be recruited with the following question in mind: What tasks are the committee responsible for and who among our members possess the skills and experience needed to complete those tasks? Match the needs and requirements of the committee and the skills, knowledge and interests of prospective committee members.***

4. Accountability to the Central Organization. Committees must have clear accountability. This begins with the written committee function that describes what is expected from the committee.***

5. Well-run Meetings. If a committee meets the above four factors, then the meetings will likely be well run. “In a sense, if a committee reflects the first five indicators of effectiveness — a clear description of its work, a chair that knows how to lead, a solid match between the interests, skills and experience of individual members on the one hand, and the needs and requirements of the committee on the other, a good mix of members, and direct accountability to the board –we will have the makings of excellent committee meetings. It will still be important to provide for meeting space that matches the needs of the group, a written meeting agenda and any necessary information mailed out to members in advance of the meeting.” ***

But just to ensure a meeting is well run, the following factors must to be achieved:

a. Set the agenda. The agenda provides a road map for the conversation so make sure the leader has a clear agenda before the meeting starts. That agenda needs to be communicated on a handout in advance of the meeting, and any other necessary information should be e-mailed out to members in advance of the meeting. ***

b. Clarify the decision making process. The chair must clarify its decision making process at the outset. Is it by majority vote? Is it that the chair gathers input and then he or she makes the decision? Make it clear from the outset how decisions will be made. As the CEO of Autodesk put it, “We’re very clear at the beginning of every meeting whether it’s one person’s decision or whether it’s more of a discussion to reach consensus. I think it’s a really valuable thing to understand because otherwise people can feel frustrated that they gave out their opinions but they don’t understand the broader context for the final decision.”*****

c. Start on time and end on time. “ A definitive end time wil help ensure that you accomplish what’s on your agenda and get people back to work promptly”*****

d. Make sure the leader lets people speak. As the CEO of Honeywell stated, “Your job as a leader is to flush out all the facts, all the opinions, and at the end make a good decision.”*****

e. End with an action plan. Determine who is responsible for what and what the timelines are. The secretary must record all time frames to make sure all action items are taken care of and followed up on.*****

f. Do a meeting audit every few months. The chair should examine the results of each meeting and determine whether they are effective. Review the meetings that worked and didn’t, and determine if you need every meeting you’ve held.*****

Other Factors
1. Make sure an evaluation process of the committee meetings is in place. Immediate feedback is a huge factor in gauging the success of the meeting, and making changes so meetings are efficient and effective.

2. Post an annual calendar at the beginning of the year. Make sure your committee members know when meetings are and what is expected of them right from the outset.

3. Provide an orientation for new committee members.

4. Provide regular recognition to active committee member.

5. The chair should privately meet with lackluster members to find out what is happening and why work isn’t being performed.

6. Involve committee members in developing an annual committee plan of work and make sure that the committee plans are in alignment with the overall strategic plan of the association. ****

*Bain and Company Insights, Aug. 8, 2012
**Chait, Richard, Holland, Thomas, and Taylor, Barbara, Improving the Performance of Governing Boards, Oryx Press, 1996.
*** Andringa, Robert C., and Engstrom, Ted W., Nonprofit Board Answer Book, National Center for Nonprofit Boards, 1997.
**** O’Connell, Brian, Operating Effective Committees, Independent Sector, 1988.
*****Adam Brant, “How to Run an Effective Meeting”, The New York Times, May 16, 2017.

  • What Is a Steering Committee?Part 1
  • Steering Committee ChallengesPart 2
  • 5 Essential Steps to Organize an Effective Steering CommitteePart 3
  • Developing a Steering Committee: Best PracticesPart 4

Part 1

What Is the Purpose of a Steering Committee?

Steering committees are advisory bodies that are made up of senior stakeholders or experts that provide guidance on a lot of different issues that could face companies such as budgets, new endeavors, company policy, marketing strategies, and project management concerns.

On a departmental level, these groups can help with the selection, definition, and control of projects. Project steering committees are likely a part of a larger project governance structure that has the duty of managing the team’s progress when it comes to meeting project goals and deadlines.

Stakeholders can include executives and client representatives. Specifically, their purpose is to make sure projects align with business objectives, monitor progress, approving any changes related to scope or budgets, conflict resolution, project strategy, and the overall task of getting the team to produce deliverables eventually.

Why Is It Important to Have an Effective Steering Committee?

Every departmental project may not require the help or management of a steering committee. However, if the plan is for a considerable amount of cross-departmental interaction and the involvement of a lot of internal stakeholders, then help from a steering committee is necessary. One of their primary functions is to manage conflicts that could arise between departments and stakeholders. A steering committee that includes individuals from a lot of different sectors can make sure all relevant voices are heard. Steering committees can also help teams keep the right perspective when it comes to their projects, stay on budget, and carefully analyze the impact that any changes could cause to the original scope. Because their role can help create success or failure, leaders need to work to put together steering committees that are effective. Here are a few pieces of data that reveal why the guidance of an efficient and effective steering committee is needed for companies tackling larger projects:

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  • Only 2.5 percent of companies successfully complete 100 percent of their projects.
  • On average, companies go over project budget by 27 percent.
  • The failure rate of projects with a budget of $1 million is 50 percent, a cost that is higher than projects with a $350,000 budget.

Compliance Committee Agenda Template

All of these issues could have likely been mitigated by a well-trained governing body like a project steering committee. However, before discussing ways to create an effective steering committee, leaders need to understand the challenges to accomplishing this.

Part 2

Committee Agenda Template

Challenges to Establishing a Steering Committee

Committee agenda template

Steering committees are an important component of the project management process. When creating one, there are some challenges and potential pitfalls that leaders need to be aware of.

  1. Handling Differing Personalities and Interests

    It is crucial for leaders to have various levels of managers and executives on the steering committee. This creates a lot of positives as many voices and interests can be taken into account throughout the project lifecycle. Unfortunately, this can also create a challenge as personality conflicts can arise since those in senior leadership may take a more active decision-making role over those that are mid-level managers. This can create tense conflicts and competing interests.

  2. An Increase in Meetings

    Naturally, steering committees will want to meet to decide on project budgets, scopes, changes, and any other topic that could arise. The potential problem with this is that it could take time away from the actual work that needs to be done. Team members may have to wait longer than anticipated for decisions from the steering committee which could push the entire project past a deadline.

  3. The Threat of Bargaining

    Again, many of the members of the steering committee could only be concerned about their interest. Therefore, leaders have to be sure they set parameters about how long the project will be analyzed and how many requirements and specifications will be changed or added. This needs to be outlined through the steering committee creation process.

  4. Defined Roles

    This might not be everyone’s first time on a steering committee, so many will probably know the basics of how it works. However, everyone does not have experience on the current project. As a result, it is imperative that leaders clearly define what the role of each member of the steering committee is. This can be difficult if it is a large group of people.

  5. A Higher Probability of Group-Think

    Often, there is either one person or a small group of people who decide to take the lead in a group setting. They may either have strong opinions or act in their own self-interests, which makes it difficult for those who oppose them to voice their views concerning project scope or direction.

Part 3

5 Essential Steps to Create an Effective Steering Committee

With challenges and disadvantages in mind, leaders can make informed decisions on taking steps to create an effective steering committee. Below are steps leaders can take to create well-functioning and efficient project steering committees.

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  1. Pick the Right People

    There are a lot of factors that leaders need to take into account when selecting individuals for a steering committee.

    A. The first is the individual’s personality and the likelihood that they are successful working in teams.

    B. The other major factor is organizational representation. For large projects, various departments should be represented in the organization by someone with appropriate decision-making authority.

  2. Inform Them of the Project

    A. Regardless of the experience that everyone may have serving on steering committees, each person needs to understand the plan, description, purpose, and current scope.

    B. Members should receive information before the initial meeting so they can craft any questions they have beforehand.

  3. Set Clear Rules and Goals

    A. Leaders need to give steering committee members the tools to perform their duties by setting standards and clear goals.

    B. Does the budget need to stay within a specific parameter?

    C. How many deadline or scope changes will be allowed?

    D. Is there a limit on ideas that can be implemented? These are all questions that need to be answered in meetings with steering committee members.

  4. Schedule Follow-Up Meetings as Necessary

    A. Frequent meetings can decrease efficiency and effectiveness. Therefore, leaders need to only schedule meetings when there is something appropriate to discuss such as a budget or scope change.

    B. If changes are not frequent, leaders may want to schedule benchmark meetings throughout the development of the project as needed.

    C. It is crucial that every session has a defined purpose.

  5. Make Communication and Debriefing a Priority

    A. This can happen through developing a mechanism for committee members to communicate with each other and the project manager.

    B. Leaders can create a plan for teams to meet with the steering committee to answer questions and update them on progress, or even utilize a company intranet for progress updates.

    C. After the completion of the project, leaders should debrief with committee members to gain insight into the process and any problems that occurred.

Part 4

Best Practices for Developing a Steering Committee

Below are helpful tips leaders can use to create an effective and efficient steering committee that guide project teams to success.

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  • Provide Training and Coaching

    There may be some members that are new to serving on a steering committee. Leaders can help ease them into their duties by providing training and coaching. Committee members are as productive as their experience will allow, so it is essential that leaders offer an adequate education for committee members new and experienced.

  • Keep a Manageable Size

    Leaders should make it a priority to not make steering committee teams to small or big. One change management framework suggested that leaders keep the size to around six, a size large enough to represent a lot of the organization’s department but not too big to encroach on efficiency.

  • Always Provide Agenda Information Beforehand

    Meetings will go a lot faster and operate at a higher level of efficiency if agendas concerning project information are given to the steering committee before they arrive. This will allow them to craft any initial questions they have before the meeting to save time.

  • Encourage Fast Decision-Making

    It makes sense for members to take time to make informed decisions, however, when a group is involved, a decision that should only take 24 hours could end up taking a week if there are not any established parameters for how long decision-making should take. Leaders should express that the purpose is not about rushing decisions, but facilitating efficiency so that teams are not left to push back deadlines.

  • Have a Liaison Between the Project Manager and Committee

    It is a great idea to have the project manager serve as a liaison between the project manager and steering committee. It will cut down confusion if all questions, concerns, and decisions are communicated to the project manager so they can disperse the information uniformly.

If done correctly, steering committees can be a useful governing body for project managers. The priority of every leader regarding project management should be to increase efficiency and create an environment where the steering committee can fulfill their duties efficiently. This involves selecting the right people, outlining clear responsibilities, establishing times to meet, and setting parameters on decision-making. Project managers cannot handle the burden of leading a massive project by themselves, so it is favorable to have a steering committee that can step in and provide guidance and assistance.

Effective collaboration with your steering committee is all about communicating effectively.
ProsperForms is a cloud solution for effective communication with your steering committee. It brings a more light-hearted tone to messaging making it easily digestible, and makes it easy for teams to provide updates and receive feedback regularly.

How to use ProsperForms for status reports:

  1. Easily implement regular status updates by creating a status feed for your team and inviting the members of your steering committee as observers.
  2. Peace of mind: No one forgets to fill in their status updates because it sends timely reminders according to the recurrence schedule you chose.
  3. Receive guidance and feedback:
    Each status report has a separate section for comments, which is used by leaders and members of steering committee to clarify information and provide guidance and feedback.
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  • Configure who will add records by choosing the “Participants” tab.
  • Set the applet as “Team-wide” if you want all team members to view each other’s records.
  • Alternatively, you can allow each participant to view his/her own records only and stakeholders to view all entries.
  • Step 2: Users will click the “Open Submission Form” button to fill it out and submit it.

As soon as a new record is added, participants with “View” rights will receive an email notification and can view it in real time on the Timeline screen.

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