When was the last time you were asked to join a committee? Did you have a deep sigh of angst or a smile of excitement. Your reaction was probably the former, which is not uncommon. Most professionals I know are involved in one if not multiple volunteer committees and seem either frustrated or lukewarm about the purpose or progress of the committee.
Participating in committees is a great opportunity to get diverse voices and perspectives to inform complicated issues and bring forward new solutions. Committee work can also be a great leadership development and community engagement opportunity for staff. When we take the time to be thoughtful about our role and involvement, then we can accelerate the impact of our committee work.
Part of our project management work includes providing staff support for different volunteer committees. These include the Governor-appointed Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee, Healthy Families Indiana Think Tank, and community-based coalitions (read more here).
Many of my team members are also involved in committees as a volunteer. As a result, we sit on both sides of the table. It’s with this broad perspective that we share the following tips for how you can make the most of your committee work!
1. CLARIFY EXPECTATIONS
You or your organization were hopefully strategically asked to join this committee. Do you have a clear understanding of your purpose for being on the committee? Are you representing a specific perspective (industry type, stakeholder type, subject matter expertise, etc.), and the leaders are wanting you to share your perspective on behalf of this group? If you are not clear, ask the leaders up front when you are joining.
In addition, what are the leaders expecting you to do on this committee? Is this a working committee that is developing a proposal or reworking policies/ programs? How much time and involvement is expected of you on this committee? Are the leaders of the committee expecting you to share information you learn at the committee with others in your circle or industry?
I was recently asked to join the Wabash County Early Childhood Education Steering Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the strategic plan and supporting the working committees. When I joined, I was informed of the reason I was being asked to join, the purpose of our work, and the time commitment for the Steering Committee. I understand my role and the purpose of the group.
A well-run committee should have these expectations and obligations clearly articulated from the beginning, so there is no “gotcha” later when they ask you to do something you didn’t know you were supposed to do. By having this clarity, you should have a stronger sense of purpose and meaning for participating on this committee.
2. ASSESS YOUR ROLE
Once you know the purpose of the committee and your expectations for involvement, now it is time to assess your personal role and contribution. What type of “talent” can you contribute to the committee?
Do you bring a unique perspective that no one else on the committee shares? Can you gather information or review information in a way that no one else can contribute?
My colleague, Sara Anderson, was asked to join our local county’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Data Committee. Leaders of the committee became aware of our data expertise and had a need for more assistance. Sara learned more about the committee’s data needs, helped them organize the data into a dashboard (see more here and here about our dashboard work!) to visualize and share with the other committees the impact of their work and made recommendations to improve the data being collected.
Reflect on what ways you can add value to the committee’s work and offer it to the leadership and the group. This will provide more purpose and meaning with the committee and also improve the overall work of the group.
3. PREP AND PLAN
Usually before each committee meeting, the leadership will send out meeting materials (agenda, handouts, etc.) in advance of the committee meeting. If you make the time to review those materials and any other follow-up from the last meeting, you will be able to contribute more in the committee meeting. It will give you a sense of purpose for the meeting and how you can participate/ add to the discussion.
By preparing for the committee in advance, you can also be prepared to ask thoughtful questions or gather other helpful information that could contribute to the discussion. Nothing is worse than showing up to a committee meeting where action is supposed to be taken and feeling like the other members did not do the prep needed to have a meaningful discussion.
4. SHARE YOUR LEARNINGS
Hopefully through your engagement on your committees you are learning new information. Now you are informed and equipped to share this information with your colleagues and industry. Again, you might strategically be asked to share information with your network. Even if you are not asked, odds are that they would still benefit from learning about your work.
For the state advisory groups that we staff and provide backbone support, many committee members find value in participating in the groups because they learn what is happening across the state. Then they are more informed to take that information back to their community and network to help get everyone on the same page and expand the discussion.
Assess the information that you have received and learned through your committee work and think about who in your network could find value in it. Maybe it is simply a quick post on a social media channel, including a blurb in your next e-newsletter or sending out an email. Whatever the communication medium, make sure to pass along what you are learning with relevant parties involved!
Do you have a committee that has stalled and needs some help? Contact us for a free consultation to see if we might be able to help you!