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The Committee Conundrum: Which Ones Do I Really Need?

By Ruth Nicholson, GO!, 06/12/18, 12:00PM CDT

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Define clear roles and responsibilities for every member of your leadership team

Much of our work is done in groups and committees, but few of us enjoy slogging through meetings. How do you know which committees you really need? How can you set them up for success?

Meetings are often how we get work done, including in our youth sports organizations. But few enjoy going to meetings. When do you REALLY need to convene a committee?

If you don’t need them, don’t convene them!

There are four instances in which you need to create a committee:

  • Required in by-laws or articles of incorporation (legal requirement).
  • When the project or program needs multiple and diverse skills to implement (skills requirement).
  • When a project or program is large or complex and needs many people to implement it (labor requirement). 
  • In situations in which the project or program needs a significant amount of membership or community support to be successful (public relations requirement).

Minimize Micro-Management

Committees should operate with the sanction of your board of directors or club ownership and in support of your organization’s programs, particularly the support of players and coaches. Create a meaningful link between your committees, club programs and club leadership in three steps.

First, define clear roles and responsibilities for every member of your leadership team, including individual members of your board of directors, directors or coaching and other key staff. Each of these people should have a clear scope of work.

Second, identify the direct connection between these leadership roles to your players, teams and programs. If you cannot link a leadership role to supporting your players, coaches or teams, reconsider the need for that role or position.

Third, convene committees to implement specific pieces of work that are the links between the leadership roles (board, directors of coaching, and staff) and the delivery of services to your players.

For example, players need uniforms to wear in competitions. The board member responsible for negotiating and managing the club uniform program has a link to every team through each team’s uniform coordinator. The board member may convene a Uniform Committee every few years to gather ideas about new uniforms and to evaluate proposals from uniform suppliers.

The secret to minimizing micro-management on the part of club leadership lies in clearly defining leadership roles and how they relate to specific committee work that supports players, coaches or teams. 

Convening Committees

One of the keys to giving a committee clarity and focus – and minimizing micro-management – is to clearly charter it before or at its first meeting. While this does not need to be a long and involved process, it needs to do seven specific things.

  1. Name the committee.
  2. Describe the overall purpose of the committee.
  3. List the names of committee members and their roles on the committee. Roles can include leadership positions, such as chair or note taker. Roles can also be for specific expertise (such as marketing or contracting) or representation of interested or affected groups of people (such as age groups or individual teams). The list of committee members and their unique roles provides the means to ensure that the committee will have the expertise and representation needed to successfully accomplish its work.
  4. Describe the scope, responsibility, and authority of the committee. It is particularly important to clarify if the committee is developing a recommendation for a separate decision maker, such as a board of directors, or if it is empowered to make program decisions on its own. It is also critical to identify if the committee has any responsibility for handling money.
  5. List the specific products, recommendations, or decisions expected to be developed by the committee.
  6. Outline the schedule and timeframe within which the committee will conduct its work, including deadlines for delivering decisions, recommendations, reports or other work products. The schedule may also indicate when the committee has completed its work and may be disbanded.
  7. Describe how the committee will operate. These may be referred to as ground rules, norms, or expectations.

Managing Expectations and Committee Operations

There are three important sets of expectations needed to manage a committee: individual, group and external.

Individual expectations are often referred to as ground rules. They typically answer the following questions:

  • How will individuals represent their individual interests and expertise or that of the groups or interests they represent? Should there be primary and alternate committee members for any given interest?
  • What are the expectations for meeting preparation and attendance? What happens if someone misses a meeting?
  • What are the norms for individual behavior at meetings?

Group operating norms describe how the committee will operate and conduct its work. They include:

  • What are the roles and responsibilities of committee chairs, note takers, and other leadership positions?
  • How will the group develop recommendations or make decisions? If the committee chooses to vote, what constitutes a quorum, are votes binding on all members of the committee and can members vote by proxy? If the committee chooses to make decisions by consensus, what is the definition of consensus and how will the committee come to agreement if consensus is not possible?
  • How will the group create and use subcommittees, if needed?

External operating rules are particularly important when a committee’s work will be the focus of a significant amount of membership or public interest. These norms are focused on how the committee will relate and communicate with those who are not members of the committee, especially when the committee is in the process of discussing options prior to making decisions or developing final recommendations. Important questions to answer include:

  • How will the group incorporate input from others into its work, including membership and public feedback?
  • How will individual committee members characterize the committee’s views, opinions, and level of agreement to people who are not on the committee? How does this change while the committee is deliberating as compared to after it agrees on a recommendation or decision?
  • How will the group handle inquiries from inside and outside the organization? Who is authorized to speak for the committee and under what conditions? This is especially important if the committee is conducting work that may catch the attention of the media.

Tips for Making Your Committees Successful

  • Know the specific legal, skills, labor or public relations reasons for convening a committee.
  • Create a charter that outlines the purpose, membership and operational expectations of the committee.
  • Plan clear agendas for each meeting that help the committee stay on schedule to make key decisions and develop its work products.

About GO!

The GO! resource and training program has fielded inquiries and worked with coaches, clubs, state associations and leagues in 19 North American states and provinces, as well as others in Europe, South America, Australia and Africa since its unveiling in mid-2017. Interest from the U.S. Olympic Committee coaching education program in its training webinars has resulted in the engagement of 26 different sports.

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