Just Say “No” to All of These Committees

Nov 09, 1998

You want to know something that drives me crazy— right up the wall? It’s all of the darn committees that A/E/P and environmental firms keep creating for one reason after another. Most of the time these committees are created for one of two reasons: Either the person who is supposed to make a decision on something is afraid to do it, or, someone (at the top) doesn’t want a decision to be made at all. The committee is created. It meets. It doesn’t decide anything. Or, anything it decides allows any of the individual members to shirk their responsibility for the decision— any committee member figures he or she can always claim they disagreed, and no one will be able to disprove it. Sometimes I get the feeling that there’s a committee on everything! And another thing— the success of the company in terms of its profit and growth rate seems to be inversely related to the number of committees it has! Here are some examples of committees that I see problems with: Executive or management committee (in lieu of a strong CEO). Many times this committee is created because the entrepreneurial founder/leader will not choose a successor. So instead, he or she names an executive committee, of three, four, or even five people who are supposed to govern the company. “Make sure there’s always a consensus” becomes the battle cry. And who can argue with that? Consensus is good, right? Not if the attempt to get a consensus results in paralysis. And that’s usually what happens with a group like this. It’s impossible to get everyone to agree, so no decisions are made. Then everyone who is part of this committee goes back to their office, studio, division, or department and grumbles about what idiots his or her counterparts are. This further damages morale in the troops who sense the division at the top. Name one person the boss. Let him or her do the job. If he or she fails, name a new boss. Real simple, huh? Stockholder compensation committee. Once again, this committee is often created because no one wants to make the hard decisions on who gets how much. Plus, stockholders or “partners” are often seen as sitting outside of the “normal” organization structure (something I am totally disgusted by). It becomes a big deal politically inside the firm who gets on this committee. But then the committee is usually afraid of criticism and controversy, so they tend to spread the rewards out to everyone with very little discrimination between the best and the worst. Most of the time, this committee is a waste of time. Have the managers set the salaries for the people who report directly to them, and have the board set the salary for the CEO or managing partner. Real simple, and it even works with larger firms. Employee welfare committee. No one really enjoys planning company picnics and holiday parties, or deciding where everyone will go on the third Friday of each month for lunch. But someone has to do something to keep the employees socializing, right? Not necessarily, in my opinion. These things need to be more spontaneous and less contrived. Maybe somebody from the firm needs to be involved but there’s no reason I can see for having a group do this stuff. Rotate the responsibility versus having a committee. Marketing committee. Go/no-go decisions. Who do we team with to pursue a particular job? What should we do fee-wise on this project? Reviewing and critiquing all marketing print materials. Once again, these things are often assigned to a committee. And while some of these issues are best resolved by having more than one person involved, I have found that rarely is a committee the best way to do it. Assign responsibilities and be done with it! Because all of this involvement rarely leads to better or faster decisions! Quality committee. Committees are rarely the best QA/QC vehicles. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Client requirements vary wildly. Again, this function needs to be filled by whoever is designated as being responsible for quality per the organization chart. It’s either a discipline head or senior person or persons in the organization unit (office, division, studio, or team). One thing is for sure— it’s not a group. I have always said I favor a market-sector-based organization structure with the head of each market sector-based unit responsible for providing quality service and deliverables to a particular client type. This just works best. So think about what I am saying, folks. Do you have too many committees in your firm? If so, why? Try doing without them and I think you’ll find everything works better than it used to. Originally published 11/09/1998

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