Curbing Committee Chaos

They may be created with the best of intentions, yet sometimes committees go the wrong way on a one-way street.  They turn into committees of one, authority-fuled ego trips, Power-hungry soap boxes or they multiply so quickly that there’s a committee for everything, including the committee to create committee rules. 

OK. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.  Enter Manager Joe, who asked that his real name remain anonymous.  At two associations he has managed, a few individuals served on every committee, which gave them the ability to manipulate the community, especially when they acquired leadership positions on those committees. 

Joe added that a determined individual can bully committee members not used to dealing with difficult people.  At one point, the situation got so bad it caused the board to close a meeting and walk out of the room during an extended rant.  Later when a committee tried to hammer out new guidelines to correct the dysfunctional committee system, one of its members suffered a heart attack from the stress.  Murphy knocked his law out of the park there. 

Even after that debacle, volunteerism should be cultivated and it provides many benefits for the association, however guidelines should restrict individual dominance. 

Volunteer efforts should be guided to ensure diverse input, positive change and committee action that is responsive to the board and the needs of the community.  Boards don’t want to be perceived as opposing volunteer and committee input, but they need to provide appropriate guidance to committees. 

One community drafted committee guidelines – later adopted as policy – after they saw the need for more structure and the potential for dysfunction. 

One of the major provisions:  appointments are not for a lifetime and are subject to board discretion and confirmation.  Terms for committee appointments are for one year, except that board members can remove appointees at any time.  According to the policy, an individual should not be appointed more than four times to the same committee. 

In addition, the board president can appoint board members to committees.  With the leadership of a board member on a committee, even the small ones can accomplish a lot.  However, the policy says that no more than three board members should be appointed to a committee. 

Committees are required to report their activities to the board in writing.  Also, all committees are advisory to the board unless given specific decision-making authority by the board or CC&Rs. 

Though it’s no easy job keeping committees focused, doing so will produce better results and, in the end, happier members.  Provide clear-cut job descriptions, goals and mission statements.  When a committee needs to tackle a large project, encourage committee members to divide the tasks among themselves or approach them sequentially.  Either way, the committee should develop a schedule so all tasks are completed by the final deadline. 

Finally, revisit the committee structure often to guarantee efficiency and effectiveness.  Behind every committee success story, there is a policy that kept it operating smoothly.  Without operating policies your committees are bound to run amok.  Do you really want to test Murphy’s Law?

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