It Takes a Committee to Kill Creativity and Accomplishment

Some of the most dreaded words that can cause progress to grind to a screeching halt are, “Let’s form a committee.”  Now, in this case I am not discussing the power of good collaborative efforts where all people in the group are valued and listened to for their opinion.  Firms need good creative brainstorming sessions, off-site retreats, or the frequent golf game to generate ideas to help the company grow.

Often, an organization will constantly form committees to solve problems and generate new ideas with the result of nothing being solved or no new ideas really ever being generated.  Sometimes, these groups value the process over actual progress.  They would rather have a tidy series of meeting minutes to show they met, instead of pointing to a series of actual accomplishments.  This is like a football team that meets in the class to go over the playbook, but who never actually runs a play on the field.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a neighbor whose company performed services for highway monitoring in a state in the Midwest.  His customer was the state highway department.  They had a quirky characteristic he had to get used to.  They did not value getting to the goal in the most inexpensive and quickest manner.  Most companies have the boundaries, like a football sidelines, and a goal line.  It doesn’t matter how you get this to the goal, just do it as quickly as you can.  This state department valued the step-by-step process and did not care if they ever reached the goal.  In fact, they had meetings on how to properly hold meetings!  Maybe this is common for a governmental entity.  But does your institution truly value achievement or just the going through the motions of the process more?

Another possible characteristic of the committee-forming junkie leader, is a strong commitment to the status quo or a belief that no good ideas are generated from anyone in the organization but he and his close confidants.  This can effectively kill good ideas from Frontline Frieda, by running these through a committee structure.  This works especially well when the committee filled with others committed to the status quo.  Additional bonus points are awarded if some on the committee have an ax to grind against Frieda.  By the time they finish pouring water to douse out Frieda’s flickering embers of an idea, she will learn in the future, to never speak of any idea she has again.  It is unfortunate, but this is often the goal of a short sighted leader.

Some leaders form committees out of the fear of making decisions on their own.  They think it takes them off the hook to blame a poorly executed or ill-thought idea on a committee.  Yet, in true leadership, someone has to shoulder the blame when the other shoe drops.  A true leader is more willing to share the success with the team but take responsibility for the failure on his own.

Other leaders take tasks that should be delegated to an individual and place it in the hands of the committee because they do not trust members of their team with the job.  Allowing people to make decisions helps increase their leadership capacity.  As the leaders grow underneath the head leader, the whole company will be able to accomplish more.

It is interesting to note that the use of a committee meeting to kill progress is not new.  In fact, an event recorded in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah deals specifically with a committee meeting.  Nehemiah is leading the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  In those days, to not have walls around a city meant that you had no defenses against an enemy attack.  Some people had opposed Nehemiah at every step of the way as they did not want to see the walls built.

In the 6th chapter, they made the final plea to Nehemiah.  Four different times, they asked to have a special committee meeting with Nehemiah.  And each time, Nehemiah answered the same, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.  Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”  If you find yourself in an organization that values the committee meeting more than accomplishing really great things, perhaps the focus should be on continuing the great work instead of attending another committee.