Leadership: Creating and Managing Effective Teams

Leadership: Creating and Managing Effective Teams

Taking the “EE!” out of committee work.

By Ron Gossen, ATMB

Grinding through Toastmasters’ business, or for that matter business, often requires the collective efforts and brain power of a committee. Unfortunately, receiving the benefits of that committee work can be a nightmare. Dysfunctional committees invariably produce poor and sometimes untimely work, animosity between members and disharmony in the organization. So how do you build a committee that works effectively as a team? 

Critical First Steps: Find Your Way
The difference between a group and a team is that a group is a collection of individuals, while a team is bound by a common goal. All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams.

The first step is to have a goal. “Let’s create a committee,” is often the first thought people have when a problem arises. Don’t create a committee when a problem can be solved by an individual. If a committee needs to ask, “Why are we here?” it shouldn’t be there.

Let’s say you must accomplish something that can’t be done by an individual – what then? Committee composition is important. The members should have the desire to achieve the task plus the knowledge, skills and abilities to get it done. Assigning people to a committee simply because they aren’t busy enough is a bad idea. Assess potential committee members based on:

  • Desire
  • Tools to make a contribution
  • Collaborative attitude

Regarding that last quality, understand that some people can contribute better by working alone rather than as part of a team. Use your organization’s people for their strengths.

The final component of your committee’s work is to strive for an outcome that everyone can agree on. As soon as the organization assigns goals to the committee leader, make sure they’re communicated to the team and agreed to. Tell the leader, “Here’s what we want to accomplish,” then work backward with objectives, strategies, tactics, activities, timelines and assignments.

Five-Step Cycle of Committee Dynamics
There’s a predictable process for committees or teams whose members don’t know each other well. Understanding the process can save time, eliminate squabbling and promote productivity and harmony.

Forming. The committee meets, outlines goals and processes, and begins building relationships while working through potential problems with structure and leadership.

Storming. An inevitable period of turmoil. Questions arise about leadership, accountability and the goals. Members are uncomfortable as they learn that some can’t be counted on, or the reverse – they try to do everything themselves.

Norming. The team reaches an agreement on goals, committee form and format. This period is characterized by cooperation, mutual support and accord. Group norms are developed that allow the team to compensate for the weaknesses of individual members.

Performing. This is a period of accomplishment, achievement, productivity and pride as the committee works together and reaches its goals.

Adjourning. The committee members address their mixed feelings of accomplishment and loss as the team achieves its goals. Success ultimately means that the team members must go their separate ways. 

Tips for Leading Effective Committees
A leader’s role in a committee has a huge effect on whether the committee’s work is useful. A leader who monopolizes discussions and demeans others’ opinions won’t receive the benefit of the others’ thoughts. It’s far better to encourage input, delay criticism and create an environment that nurtures open expression.

Here are a few tips to achieve effective dialogue and committee work:

  • Encourage all committee members to participate and contribute. Later, this will ensure that everyone buys in to the common goal.
  • Make the process of generating ideas and evaluating them distinct from each other. Too often, a committee member will put an idea on the table only to have it shot down immediately, which discourages and stifles the creativity of other members. Divide the two processes into distinct sessions.
  • Don’t respond to each participant or dominate the ongoing discussions. A chairperson’s responsibility is to elicit ideas, not supply them.
  • Look forward, not backward. Permitting too much complaining about how “We can’t do this because last time...” means you can’t accomplish the committee’s goals at all.

Love them or hate them, committees are a reality in civic organizations and the workplace. When they’re called for, committees are valuable. It’s up to team members and their chairperson to use the process most efficiently, keeping the interest of the organization and the participants in mind. If the leaders understand how to get committee members to buy into the five-step cycle, they are well on their way to achieving even the most challenging of goals.

Ron Gossen, ATM-B,is the vice president and trust marketing manager of Commerce Bank in St. Louis, Missouri. He is a member of the Commerce Bank Toastmasters. He can be reached at Ron.Gossen@CommerceBank.com.