I improve a process and I share the process with the team. Everyone wins. I create a tool or automate something that’s usually done manually? Great. Everyone can use that. I join a committee to affect change? I get to add a participation award to my resume and feel like I’m contributing.

3 Reasons Committees Suck and What to do About it

Affecting real change is something that takes passionate individuals, not committees. In my day job as a project manager I spend 70% of my time doing real work and 30% trying to improve. What do I try to improve? I try to fix the pain points. I ask myself, “How could I improve what I’m doing so that next time I have to do it, it’s easier?” The positive externality of this is that these kind of improvements usually benefit everyone. I improve a process, I share the process with the team. Everyone wins. I create a tool or automate something that’s usually done manually? Great. Everyone can use that. I join a committee to affect change? I get to add a participation award to my resume and feel like I’m contributing.

If I want to make a change happen at work, I need only the gumption to do it (assuming low political risk and the change isn’t going to affect the company’s bottom line). Generally, people look for excuses at work to do the absolute minimum they can get away with and then complain when things don’t improve. The reason things don’t improve is because the company can’t decree from on high changes at the detail level. Press releases, decrees and legislation have a lot in common with what I’m doing here with my writing. They’re putting information out into the world and expecting it to result in change, just with more fanfare. They (“the leadership”) can’t possibly know the details of what particulars need to be improved so they form committees based on the company’s high-level strategy. These committees are the boots on the ground that are meant to affect change.

Committees serve the purpose of making the leadership feel like they’re affecting change while comforting the masses that change is happening. The problem is that committees don’t affect change. Committees stall change and grind innovation to a halt.

Reasons Committees Suck (at Their One Job)

People Like to Move the Needle

People like to see output from their inputs. Because committees rely so much on consensus and buy-in, the members spend all their time arguing or patting themselves on the back. Agreeing on the path forward feels like an achievement. By the time they agree they’ve wasted all their energy and don’t bother with execution (or execute poorly).

Reduced Sense of Ownership

Participating in a committee adds a credential to someone’s resume. Creating committees encourages people to sign up and be wall flowers. “Ah, yes, I’m on the culture committee” they might say despite not attending a meeting in the last 3 months. That time spent in meetings would be better spent with people doing real improvements. They don’t invite the kind of people who feel so moved to spend time working on it off the clock. Passion drives progress.

No Budget = No Time

Consensus takes time. Meetings take time. Typically these committees are cost centers, and thus are not given budgets or time dedicated to their completion. These meetings are “fit in” during lunch periods and after hours. This just makes consensus harder because you have a lot of hangry people speaking over each other with mouths full of food.

Do This Instead

If you want to affect real change, do it yourself. Put your first foot forward. With time, people will notice your action and some may even be inspired to join in your pursuit. This self-selection is way more effective than collecting volunteers for a committee. Live the change you want to see. Change takes time and you’re only one person, but if you can make it even 1% better every day you’re making the difference while committee members sit around exchanging hot air and never really getting anything done.

✌️& 💜. Thanks for reading.

Written while hungry.

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