So how DO you avoid CommitteeThink?

5 short, sweet ways to avoid CommitteeThink

The rationale for allowing committees to make big decisions sounds good – a small group of stakeholders with diverse backgrounds combine their experiences to solve a problem as a team, efficiently and quickly, in order to benefit the most people.

So why doesn’t it seem to work that way? Why do some people see committees as a place where good ideas go to die? When CommitteeThink takes over, good ideas often get watered down to a “safe” decision, and end up less efficient and less effective.

“A camel is a horse designed by committee.”

– Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the Mini Cooper, 1959.

It could be the stress of the decision itself. Big decisions often mean bigger expenses, and wrong decisions can become long-term problems. It’s a worrying, nerve-wracking process for some people, and they might simply punt on making the “right” decision and default to “good enough for now.”

Or it could be the make up of the committee itself. Since committees are made of multiple people from multiple parts of an organization, they often bring along a hierarchy of clout. Too strong of leadership, and the decision might be too specific to benefit the greater good. Lacking strong leadership, the process can meander far too long, packing together every wayward opinion and stray concern.

So how DO you avoid CommitteeThink? Here are five short, sweet ways to help you rethink the Committee process itself:

1. Define the problem first.

Before selecting any members of a committee, clearly identify what problem you are trying to solve. How urgent is the problem? Is it a problem that needs to be solved now, or is it something looming in the future? The more specific you are about the problem, the easier it is to focus on what is needed. Too vague, and the committee is apt to wander all over the place.

2. Only make the committee as big as it needs to be.

Select only those people that are critical; those most-closely connected to the project and its outcome, that have a stake in its future result. Four people can come to a decision faster than ten, so don’t add the CFO if it isn’t a financial issue because, frankly, she probably has better things to do.

3. Set a deadline and divide the goal into milestones.

Every project needs a timeline, and a deadline sets expectations. Having an endpoint makes it easier to break down the problem into steps that keep everyone involved and on track. Working toward those milestones helps to avoid the problem of “analysis paralysis” – that endless loop of researching, thinking and discussing that lets you avoid making a decision.

4. Set up a communication plan.

Make sure that each committee member understands how and when to communicate with each other in order to keep things moving. Reaching each of the milestones should then be communicated to everyone else as a progress report, which also helps to keep the committee accountable.

5. Base decisions on data, not opinions.

There is less room for debate or uncertainty when decisions are based on facts, so make sure the committee is prepared to back up their recommendations accordingly.

Bonus: Bring in outside resources when you need the help.

Let’s say your credit union needs a new website. Or a totally new name and brand. Both are big decisions that are sometimes compounded by the process of deciding who to trust, so that you end up with what you need. Big decisions can often benefit from input by someone with outside experience, especially when their expertise is likely different or deeper than yours.

Kent Dicken

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