Re: committee effectiveness
From: Tree Bressen (
Date: Tue, 21 Sep 2004 14:27:56 -0700 (PDT)
Hi Melisa,

Our Process Committee is endeavoring to do a community training on improving committee effectiveness. It is my observation that many of our conflicts stem from ineffective committee functioning rather than interpersonal problems (which often gets scapegoated). Does anyone know of any resources related to this topic? We are interested in information regarding:

I have an article posted on committees on my website at: That might offer useful info for your group. In addition, here are some specific responses.

how to discern when a problem should be addressed by a committee (vs. individuals or the full community);

It's not as simple as all in committee or all in whole group. Often there is a back-and-forth flow between a committee and the rest of the group. For example, when working out a policy that is too detailed for you to want to do all the hashing out in plenary (= whole group discussion), but requires lots of input in order to succeed. A classic example in my book would be a participation policy. For that i'd expect the process to start in whole group with a committee gathering input, then the committee would create a draft, bring it back to the large group for concerns, refine it some more in committee, and so on.

One question i'd ask is: Will this item only succeed at being implemented if lots of people actively participate in carrying it out? If so, those people need to be consulted a lot in its creation. On the other hand, if it's something that will work fine with only a few people participating, then it might be fine have a few people decide about it. Some other questions might be: Is this controversial? Are there values issues at stake? If so, take it to plenary. On the other hand, there is only a certain level of detail that groups want to get into, and you'll learn over time to let a committee handle something before the "eyes glazing over" stage arrives.

how to run effective meetings;

There is lots of information available on this topic. My website has a book list posted at that is a good starting place. Rob Sandelin has written a book on the subject, so has Shari Leach, even though neither has been fully published in book form yet. If your committee meetings aren't running smoothly, consider applying some of the same tools that you would to whole community meetings, such as planning the agenda in advance, appointing a facilitator, and so on; however, the appropriate solution depends on what the problem is.

how to respond to concerns;

What kind of concerns? Having a clear mandate (as described in Lynn N's email and in my article pointed to above) should help address many potential concerns. Sharing information helps build trust, e.g. having committee minutes publicly available, posting committee meetings in advance (time, place, agenda), and giving a report back to the community to say how progress is advancing on what you agreed to do.

role of convener;

Depends on group culture and personalities of those involved. Sometimes the convener role is limited to calling the first meeting time & place. Other times conveners track each committee agenda item for committee meetings, follow up on specific tasks with those who have agreed to do them, make reports to the larger group, facilitate committee meetings, shepherd a proposal through community meetings--the list of potential jobs is large.

 how to make good decisions.

This is a huge topic, of course. But in this context, my suggestion is to get as balanced a representation of members on the committee as you can, focus on listening to each other well and developing good process skills, and again, a clear mandate for the committee.

Good luck!  Cheers,



Tree Bressen
1680 Walnut St.
Eugene, OR 97403
(541) 484-1156
tree [at]

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.