How Boards Can Ensure Committees Operate Effectively
Committees can play a critical role for an association. They support the board of directors by getting important work done, which can greatly increase the board’s productivity and advance the association’s mission. However, implementing and managing committees is not as simple as delegating assignments. Committees can sometimes run inefficiently, assume too much autonomy, and even exercise authority they do not have—all of which can negatively impact the board’s effectiveness.

To ensure committees operate effectively and deliver results, a board must first thoughtfully consider what areas of work require standing (permanent) committees. The circumstances of each association dictate which and how many standing committees are needed. Most associations have a host of differently labeled working groups that are not codified in the association’s bylaws. Whether a special committee, task force, advisory council or work group, these bodies help advance associations as well, but are more flexible in nature than standing committees given that their activities are not governed by rigid bylaws.

Determining which association activities need a standing committee or other support, including staff, can often be accomplished by identifying if expert industry perspective is required. Is there a need for direction setting from someone in the profession, or does staff have what it needs to manage the work? Once a board identifies what warrants standing committees and what can be managed by other means, it should update its bylaws by removing the mention of unnecessary committees.

Directors should not fear dissolving committees to refocus how the work of the association gets accomplished. Each association’s needs are different, but all boards must reflect and consider that step if decisions that impact an association’s policies or finances are being made in committee and not inside the boardroom, or if any committees are no longer relevant.

Once a board identifies its needs and the appropriate committees required, it should closely monitor how they function. Committees sometimes can operate as overly independent bodies, or not really operate at all. They can consume association resources without producing results. Volunteers sign up or are enlisted, yet the committee ranks can diminish and weaken over time. If this sounds familiar, then the board needs to more closely manage its committees to fully leverage the association’s volunteer resources. It is clear that an association’s committee structure can significantly impact a board’s effectiveness. Evaluating committees should be a routine exercise and managed thoughtfully and strategically.


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