Down with committees! Why work teams don’t always work.

We’ve all been there: sitting around the boardroom table, wondering why we’re there, sipping our coffees in the hopes that it’ll keep us awake. Maybe we’ll leave with a task list. Maybe not. Maybe we weren’t even listening at all.

ARGH! Why do we do it? Often, it’s because we’ve been assigned to a team that’s been given the nebulous task of GETTING SOMETHING DONE.

It’s often so full of frustration that the “thing” doesn’t get done. And if it does, the “thing” isn’t nearly as effective as it could be.

It gets worse when teams are broken into committees, and subcommittees, and so on. The idea, of course, is to “get things done.” We’re taught from an early age that teams do things better, faster, and in a happier way. The prevailing belief is that the best way to address a new task is to assign a committee to handle it. Before you know it, you have a big ineffective team overseeing three ineffective committees with two ineffective subcommittees. It’s like a lumbering beast, getting fatter by the week.

You may wonder, hopelessly, if there’s a better way. You’re not alone. In fact, studies have shown that most “diplomatic” teams are actually counterproductive.

This is no blanket indictment of teams. Yes, it’s no secret that I don’t like committees. I don’t. I DO like teams if they’re done right — very much, in fact. However, my own experience (including countless military and corporate meetings) along with credible research has shown me that most teams are not “done right” — they’re ineffective at best and maddening at worst.

Look, teams are not meant to be diplomatic entities or melting pots of talent where everyone’s idea gets used. Teams are meant to get things done. Plain and simple. And they work best when one leader makes the decisions and everyone else follows.

Does that seem harsh? It does to a lot of people. In a perfect world, we want to be on teams where everyone makes an equal, productive contribution to something AWE INSPIRING and GREAT.

What ends up happening, however, is that good ideas get compromised, progress becomes mired in bureaucracy, and goals, if they were ever set, become lost. The team drags on forever.

Of course, no organization can sustain itself on a workforce of independent operators. So what can we do to create effective teams? The first, maybe hardest, thing to do is to find a good leader. The leader should be an expert as well as a visionary. The leader, for his or her part, should not be afraid to voice the vision and create a map to its success.

Got him or her? Good. Next, populate the team with six to eight people who want to be on the team and are capable of getting things done. Keep it in the single digits. Realize that these people are not here to be equal parts of a collective. This isn’t a hive mind. Rather, they are here to lend their particular skills and expertise to the vision.

Leaders should not be afraid to let people go. They should jettison dead weight. There is no place for politics, rehabilitation, or hand-holding in an effective team. There is plenty of room for encouragement and recognition (which is different than hand-holding).

Leaders should not hide behind bureaucracy and process. Lay off the committees. A problem is not best tackled by creating committees and gumming up the issue. Analyze the issue, make a decision, and move on.

There are, of course, other things that need to happen. Goal setting and periodic progress evaluations are critical. So is effective delegation of tasks, and written descriptions of expectations. Lots of things.

This blog post is not here to tell you what they are.

This blog post is here to make you rethink how you run your board meetings, your morale teams, and your finance committees.

In the end, you’ll be thanked.




Matthew Chabe

About Matthew Chabe

Matt Chabe is a principal at The Galleon Agency, an integrated marketing agency based in Bangor, Maine that helps businesses around the nation maximize growth. He is the chair of Bangor SCORE, a seven-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, and drives way too fast for his own good. Matt graduated from University of Maine with a BA in marketing and a minor in psychology.