Many managers joke or moan about committees being big time wasters. No committee ever painted a Mona Lisa these rugged individuals grouse, or sculpted a Pietu. In reality a committee or task force is often the best way to pool the expertise of different members of the organization and their channel their efforts toward effective problem solving and decision making. In addition, these formal groups let numbers learn how their work affects others, increasing all members’ willingness and ability to coordinate their work for the organization’s good. Also, committees can serve as “incubators” for young executives, teaching them to think beyond the needs and concerns of their own work unit.
Even if formal groups did not offer these advantages, they are an inescapable part of business life. As long ago as 1960, Rollie Tillman concluded from a survey that “94 percent of the firms with more than 10,000 employees reported having formal committees. Furthermore, he noted mangers spent from 50 to 80 percent of their time serving on committees. Thus, the real challenge is not to avoid formal groups but to learn how to use groups more effectively.
Guidelines for committees
Because committees differ greatly in their functions and activities one set of guidelines will not be appropriate for all cases. For example, a highly directive committee responsible for communicating instructions from top management to subordinates should be managed differently from a committee whose major task is to solve complex managerial problems. The following suggestions apply to problem solving committees, which must be managed flexibility if their members’ skills are to be used most effectively.
Formal Procedures: Several formal procedures are useful in helping committees operate effectively.
1. The committee’s goals should be clearly defined, preferably in writing. This will focus the committee’s activities and focus discussion of what the committee is supposed to do.
2. The committee’s authority should be specified. Is the committee merely to investigate, advise and recommend, or is it authorized to implement decisions?
3. The optimum size of the committee should be determined. With fewer than 5 members, the advantages of teamwork may be diminished. Potential group resources increase as group size increases. Size will vary according to circumstances, but for many tasks the ideal number of committee members ranges from 5 to 10. With more than 10 to 15 members a committee usually becomes unwieldy so that it is difficult for each member to influence the work.
4. A chairperson should be selected on the basis of his or her ability o run an efficient meeting – that is, to encourage the participation of all committee members to keep meetings from getting bogged down in irrelevancies and to see that the necessary paperwork gets done. Appointing a permanent secretary to handle communications is often useful.
5. The agenda and all supporting material for the meeting should be distributed to members before the meetings to permit them to prepare in advance. This makes it more likely they will be ready with informed contribution and will stock to the point.
6. Meetings should start and end on time. The time when they will end should be announced at the outset.
One of the challenges in making formal groups effective is ensuring that everyone has a chance to contribute and participate. After all no one can predict who will offer the best ideas. People in the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, have a long history with systematic procedures for participative management. In these countries, worker participation is not a temporary experiments or an ad hoc measure. In fact, corporate accomplishments are regarded as the results of the combined creative and decision making talents of all participants. There is a basic respect for individual dignity and contribution, and companies tend to ensure tangible rewards for individual contributions to the effectiveness of the group. Some analysts suggest that this orientation is a significant factor in the ability of such companies as Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) and Volvo to maintain strong competitive positions in international competition.
Both SAS and Volvo are models of participatory management. The central theme of SAS’s management approach is a strong belief in the ability and integrity of front line personnel who are entrusted with a great deal of responsibility in servicing the needs of customers.