The comedian Milton Berle once said, “A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.” Although there have been times that I agree with Mr. Berle, that has not been the case in several of my workplace endeavors. Below are some of the tips that helped me in working with committees;
- Make being a member of the committee an honor rather than a punishment.
- Engage your committee and delegate.
- Hold members accountable but remember to follow-up.
I was the Professional Development Director of a law firm with 1,000 attorneys in 16 offices. My department consisted of myself, a CLE coordinator and an Administrative Assistant. We offered approximately 20 training programs per month to our attorneys and their clients. We also provided a monthly Mentor/Mentee lunch program as well as firm-wide Mentor events. We had many lateral attorneys joining our firm so I had to create programs specific to their needs as well.
That was a lot to accomplish with so few staff members but my background as a Communication Consultant helped me to come up with a solution.
Promote the committee as being highly selective in choosing members.
One of the best ways to get people engaged in an organization is to give them a responsibility or get them involved in a hands-on experience. It makes them feel a part of things and it provides a good way for them to develop relationships. I used this principle in creating an Associate Training Committee. I asked each of the firm’s Training partners to appoint associates in their departments from different geographic locations to serve as Associate Training Liaison. The endeavor was described as part of developing future leaders in the firm, so associates were anxious to participate. I held meetings with the Associate Training Committee members via teleconference quarterly to discuss upcoming programs, orientations and training. The training associates provided many suggestions about how our training could be more effective and they took charge of several tasks that helped me to accomplish my goals.
Engage and Delegate to committee members to get them in your corner!
For example, I needed to increase attendance at our training programs and obtain more feedback to make sure the programs offered were meeting the needs of those who attended. Anyone involved in training knows that you can provide Evaluation forms, but they are rarely filled out. Keeping this in mind, I asked the Committee members to be in charge of collecting the evaluations at the end of each presentation. They were also asked to encourage associates in their office to participate in the training and as they had a vested interest, they did so. I tracked attendance and the submission of Evaluation forms, and those Associates whose offices had the greatest increases in both, were acknowledged.
I also gave each of them a budget so they could select and facilitate an event for the associates and mentors in their office. Some of the events they chose included a golf outing, a happy hour, a Las Vegas night, a bowling party, an ice-cream social and a softball game. I provided consultation as needed but the event was something that the Committee members were responsible for. It turned out to be a big success!
We had monthly Mentor/Mentee lunch programs which were video-conferenced to each office. I was starting to run out of program ideas when I asked who would want to be part of a Mentor/Mentee lunch committee and I received several responses. I met with my newly formed committee and we brainstormed different topic ideas and possible presenters. We then divided up the months so that each committee member would be responsible for a particular program. Once again the committee concept worked to increase attendance because the person who planned the program made sure it was well attend; and with the combined input of the group, the quality of our monthly programs increased.
Although my committee members were held accountable, I was there to check in with them and answer questions if problems occurred.
Due to the formulation of committees people got to know each other, had fun and I got work accomplished. Unlike Mr. Berle, I strongly promote the formation of committees!
Susan Schoenfeld (Milwaukee) has worked as a Professional Development Director at a large law firm, Training Manager in a healthcare organization, Curriculum Designer for a non-profit, and College Professor at several universities. She has been coaching clients, presenting workshops and speaking professionally for over 20 years. With an MA in Communication and experience acting in professional theatre, Susan’s training sessions are dynamic, fun, informative and targeted to the needs of her customer!