Death By Committee

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“A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours” – Milton Berle

Committees can be a great asset in an organization. They can be wonderful brainstorming sessions and for delegating tasks. But there comes a point when the work has to get done and taking everything back to the committee means it will never be complete.

Whether you are a committee of three or 30,the time to get even a paragraph or photo through the bureaucratic process is glacial.

This blog post, titled Fundraising’s death by committee lists the types of people who usually make up committees:

  • On every committee there’s someone who says, “Too much copy. No one will read that much.”
  • On every committee there’s someone who says, “Too emotional. People won’t respond. Make it rational.”
  • On every committee there’s someone who says, “You’re talking down to the donors. They’ll be insulted by this simplistic prose.”
  • On every committee there’s at least one “formalizer.” You know the type: short words like “gift” get turned into long words like “donation,” colloquial words like “kids” get turned into formal words like “children.” And you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction. Or use sentence fragments. Ever.
  • On almost every committee there’s a Brand Shaman who wants to make everything conform to a narrow interpretation of the “brand.”
  • Add the many individual eccentric biases against certain words, specific colors, and the fanatical adherents of various marketing and communication theories.

While this list is specifically talking about fundraising committees and donors, substitute donor for audience and you have a committee that could fit in any office.

The hardest part of committee work is trying to limit everyone to their area of expertise. For example if you have a marketing department, let them figure out the wording. A design team, let them design. An accountant, let him be in charge of the budget. As the blog points out, there is “value of expertise over opinion.” Don’t be afraid to bring documentation into the discussion, as long as it is relevant.

So the next time you’re asked to be on a committee, don’t automatically say no. Instead consider the current members, the project and see if implementing a few changes, such as a strict time-table, wouldn’t help make the experience better for all.

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