I am NOT a committee! Or How to improve your committees & meetings!


April 1, 2013 by pmilleredu

https://i0.wp.com/images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/7100000/leia-princess-leia-organa-solo-skywalker-7122988-468-638.jpgFor those of you that have not yet seen Star Wars, stop reading, take the rest of the day off and have a Star Wars marathon. If you are wondering about viewing order I agree with Geek Dad’s article here http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/05/ff_starwars/

That being said, this post isn’t actually about Star Wars but it is such a great franchise and I am surprised that some people still haven’t seen it. This post is actually about committees and meetings. I inevitably start thinking about this topic whenever I watch Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Many of our feelings towards committees can be summed up by the interplay between Leia and Han over whether it’s safer to stay hidden in the “asteroid” or to leave hoping the Empire isn’t still out there looking for them. Leia protests and Han says “No time to discuss this as a committee” to which Leia responds “I am not a committee!”

This classic line still rings true with many of our feelings about committees today. Whether we have similar concerns as Han, that committees take too long to make the wrong decision, or we feel they have no decision making power at all, many of us are left with a bad taste in our mouth when we say committee.

This doesn’t have to be the case and I am proposing a way to increase the productivity of committees and meetings using skills we already have and use in other ways.

  1. Start the committee off with norms and expectations. Do this at the first meeting and include that all memos/emails must be read, people must come prepared and discuss how to bring up concerns. This is when you also need to give people an out; if they feel this is not going to be a good fit for them, then let them leave. You want to limit the number of people on each committee anyway.
  2. As the committee chair, you need to give people permission to bring up concerns/suggestions/complaints or it won’t happen. This needs to be discussed with the norms and expectations. If we are serving on a committee of our peers in other departments or offices, it can feel odd to suggest an improvement when we may not have all the answers ourselves. But think of it this way, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you if you pants were unzipped or you had food stuck in your teeth?
  3. Prepare agendas, send them out and stick to them. This helps everyone prepare for the meeting and hold each other accountable for showing up prepared. If someone is unprepared follow up with them after the meeting and ask them to come prepared next time.
  4. Only use meetings for one of two things: conflict or coordination. Meetings should not be used for information sharing; that belongs in an email.
    1. When I say conflict I know some of you cringe. I do not mean conflict as in fighting, rather the sharing of differing ideas. Conflict gets everyone on the same page and leads to a better decision. Use meetings to flush out that conflict and put it to good use. If none of your meetings have conflict then either people aren’t sharing what they really think or you have group-think and need different people around the table.
    2. When you have a final decision you should coordinate tasks and collaboration in person, not over email and certainly not with only 5 minutes to spare. Make sure everyone leaves knowing what they will do, who they are relying on for their own tasks and who is relying on them. Leave time for questions and clarification. Nothing ruins a great meeting like people forgetting what they are supposed to be doing.
  5. At times you will need to have a brainstorming session to kick off any large initiative. Brainstorming sessions are not meetings. They have a different purpose and expectations. The people you invite to the brainstorming session do not need to be same people as are serving on the committee. In brainstorming you are throwing out ideas without judgment and hearing from more people than should be making the final decision.
  6. As often as possible make ‘preliminary’ decisions before the meeting. If you need other’s input get it from them directly through individual conversations. We do not all need to make every decision from the start. I prefer consulting a few people and bringing a ‘preliminary’ decision to discuss at the meeting. This is where conflict comes into play and we finalize. We can all be involved in the decision making process without all being involved from scratch. Having a starting point to discuss and change has been far more productive for me than asking what we should do and trying to build something in front of everyone. Have one person make and own the ‘preliminary’ decision as a starting point after getting input from the people they need to.


We already know how to set expectations, to make decisions on our own and how to set agendas. We just don’t always pull them together for committees we serve on. We forget, things come up, we fear making the wrong choice, etc. When that happens we run the risk of leading a bad committee. I am guilty of all of these things myself but you can bet that I will be setting up my next committee I am on using these strategies.

For two quick and great reads on meetings check out “Read This Before Our Next Meeting” and “Death By Meeting”. They are both fantastic books and sure to help you have better meetings.

Now I need to go watch Star Wars again and if anyone ever sees one of these car sun shades for sale my birthday is in January  (hint hint).

 As always, thanks for reading!

-Paul Jacobson-Miller


2 thoughts on “I am NOT a committee! Or How to improve your committees & meetings!

  1. Love the ‘conflict or coordination’ rule for meetings Paul. I suffer ‘death by meeting’ when it’s a series of updates that could have been sent around as a memo or email. Let’s focus on what we’re going to do with the information we have. Thanks for sharing!

    • pmilleredu says:

      Thanks Lisa. I agree that meetings that are just updates are not helpful. It also keeps people from reading emails when they know that it will just be covered in the meeting anyway. Same thing with data, do we just talk about information or do we do something with it!
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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