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Committee ups and downs:

Weighing up the arguments for and against setting up committees

The ups …

  • Committees can make better use of board members' time, allowing certain tasks, issues or investigations to be delegated away from the full board to leave it free to concentrate on the "big picture".

  • Delegation to committees can also reduce the length of full board meetings because the issues they deal with have been discussed and resolved to everyone's satisfaction beforehand.

  • Committees can make better use of board members' expertise, by allowing those with particular knowledge, interests or skills to concentrate on those areas.

  • Committees can help broaden the knowledge and skills of board members, particularly if members are rotated around the different committees during their term.

  • Committees can help build leadership within the board, allowing leaders to emerge and build their skills in this area.

  • Committees can help to share the load, ensuring that all board members can remain engaged and have an active role.

  • Committees can help to build a better sense of camaraderie because often they will operate less formally than the full board.

… And downs

  • While committees are often good time savers, too many committees can have the opposite effect. Board members who are required to sit on several committees may quickly start to feel time deprived.

  • Similarly, effectiveness can be compromised if board members are sitting on too many committees.

  • Committee meetings can suffer from the same problems as other board meetings. If not managed correctly, they can be ill-structured, ineffective and just plain boring. And if the full board meetings are the same, that just doubles the pain.

  • Having committees creates a requirement for more administrative support. Again, the time and resources saved by having the committee needs to be weighed up against that required to make them work.

  • Sometimes, a committee will outlive its usefulness. For example, a board may decide to set up a committee to oversee the group's major events and continue to meet – and swallow resources – even when the group has scaled back and there are only one or two minor events to organise.

Checklist

Review your board's committee structure once a year to ensure that:

  • All redundant committees are eliminated.

  • Board members believe the structure in place is making better use of their time, rather than wasting it.

  • Committees are serving their function well, coming up with real solutions and providing informed recommendations to the full board.

  • Committee members have adequate expertise to deal with their assigned area of interest.

  • Committee responsibilities are shared and board members are regularly rotated into different areas where possible.

  • Committees are helping to build the leadership potential of board members by offering different members the opportunity to serve as the chair.

  • Sufficient administrative resources are being allocated to allow the committees to function effectively.
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