Respect, communication key to good committee service
July 13, 2015
Many of you reading this have probably served on a committee or several committees and some may just now be serving in your first committee role. Committees such as: county soil and water district, county fair, fundraising committee for local event/charity or a church-related committee just to name a few might you have or may in the future serve on. Committees make important decision which can impact your community, your county and your state.
Committee members sometimes question how to be most effective serving in their role. Some more formalized and systematic groups/organizations have job descriptions for each committee member, which is great. I am a strong proponent of this, yet, I understand in some volunteer organizations this is more time consuming and difficult to develop. If you find yourself serving on a committee here are some key tips to help you be more effective in your role.
1) Be responsible. We are busy people, but carrying out your responsibility is very important. You may have really wanted to serve on the committee or due to a need for a certain number of people or special situation you had 'your arm twisted' by friends or community leaders asking you to serve. No matter how you moved into this committee member role —once there it's your responsibility to fulfill your role and assist the full committee in reaching their goals. Be responsible by showing up at the meetings, come prepared (do your homework ahead of time, so you are not holding up the discussion) and be truly engaged. If you are passive and appear uninterested, not only will you get frustrated but so will your committee cohorts.
2) Provide insight. It's great when a committee has diversity of people. People with different personality types and styles brings diversity but so does your background, your education, your experience, etc. Providing a variety of insight can bring richness to a committee. Speak up and share your knowledge area. If there is a role or project that matches your knowledge area, be proactive and take the lead in that area.
3) Respect others. Just as you hope other committee members will respect the talents and knowledge you bring to the table, you need to do the same. The chairperson should balance the discussion but this can also fall into your responsibility. If someone with an idea is not being heard or is being overloaded with projects, speak up and bring it to the attention of others. As a committee you need to work as a team. During your committee tenure, tough and emotional issues can surface, such as raising funds, deadlines, making big changes in a community or organization and challenging decisions need to be made. Committee members who practice collaboration and treat each other with respect can work through these issues more professionally.
4) Communication. This can be the elephant in the room. Communication must occur from the chairperson down through the committee members and across committee members, especially those working closely on projects. This is often the number one deal breaker for the success and outcome of a team and reason people will leave a committee. Some things to keep in mind: allow for open discussions during meetings; listen to all sides; and make sure minutes/notes are taken at each meeting and distributed to all members in a timely manner. If you missed a meeting it's your responsibility to review the notes as soon as you can and get back up to speed in case action is needed or a responsibility was sent your way.
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5) Be clear on your role. If you are not clear with your role or responsibilities, first visit with the committee chair or suggest one meeting be held to review roles and responsibilities, proper flow of communication/chain of reporting, and expectations of each member (this is where job descriptions become so important). When committee members are not clear on these items, miscommunication can result and the team will begin to break down. For example, discuss who should be included on emails, should it be the full committee, your subcommittee, or the subcommittee and the chairperson. Emailing everyone on a minor issue, eats up valuable time of busy committee members.
Serving on a committee can be a great experience. You have the opportunity to meet many new people, learn about important issues and know you had a role in the decision-making of a project or issue. Good luck with your committee service.
–B. Lynn Gordon is an SDSU Extension Ag Leadership Specialist.