Monday, December 11, 2017

Working Committees Have Plenty To Do

We're looking ahead to another calendar year in our association, and as part of that look forward we are setting a year-long course for some of our working committees.

Working Committee is the term my association uses for what others might call Program Committees. They are not committees of the Board, helping the Board fulfill its governance function. They are committees comprised of the rank and file members of the association, and their purpose is to help the organization execute its programs.

A few of these working committees have stagnated over the past year, and we felt it was time to re-invigorate them. To help them do that, for each committee we drafted a one-page document that outlined several important elements of the committee's successful function. In addition to the committee's purpose statement, its conference call schedule, and its guidelines for selecting members and chairs, the document also included three things essential to understanding the role and function of working committee's in our association's structure.

1. The long-term strategic goal to which the association has committed itself. This is presented to the committee with a period, not a question mark. It's not up for discussion. The strategic goals of the association have been developed by the staff and approved and resourced by the Board. It is not the job of the working committee to try and steer the ship in a different direction.

2. The current status of the strategic goal. Long-term means long-term. The association has been working on the goal for a while and will continue working on it for a while more. Here's a quick summary of the progress made so far.

3. The supporting agenda items the committee will focus its attention on in the year ahead. And, as we look at the year ahead of us, here are the specific things that the committee can help us do to keep the strategic goal advancing forward. If you review them, you'll see these items are not busywork exercises that staff could do, but necessary and practical decisions that require the knowledge sets and perspectives of our committee members.

I'm pretty pleased with the documents. They are a kind of contract with our committee members. They inform on our strategic direction, but they also make it clear that we can't effectively execute the necessary programs without their input and direction.

But the big epiphany for me was the realization of how much we needed the committees to actually do. When I talk with other association professionals about my approach to working committees -- that they help the organization execute programs, not direct strategy -- I am sometimes met with skepticism. Oh that would never work in my association, they often say, either not wanting members meddling in program execution or not believing the members would be satisfied in doing just that. There wouldn't be enough for them to do.

But I find it to be just the opposite. There is plenty to do in that space between strategy determination and tactical implementation. Programs must be designed before they can be executed, and their design has to be informed by the needs of the members themselves. That's the ideal space for our working committees to operate in.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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