Committee etiquette that delivers impact


Committees and project teams represent a ubiquitous component of most professionals’ work lives. We get pulled off one project and jump onto another. We get placed on one committee all while a competing committee seems to hold overlapping mandates.

Many Kenyan professionals ponder what is the point of committees if often the decisions discussed are made before even convening the meetings.

So, let us designate March 2022 as the month that we, the professionals of the Republic of Kenya, push back against senseless meaningless over-committee culture and demand the below ‘Business Talk’ big 10 committee rules for us professionals to agree to participate on workplace committees.

Inasmuch, committee chairs must do the following.

First, provide participants with all needed information in the first communication. Include the theme, topics resembling an agenda even if only a brief overview, the meeting location or virtual meeting link, the start and stop time, and who is invited to attend all in the very first notice about the upcoming meeting.

Do not say “meeting location details will come later” or “the Zoom or Teams link will be shared at a future date”. Put in the effort. Do not be lazy. Secure the logistics before notifying people about a committee meeting. It builds psychological satisfaction with the upcoming meeting.

Second, do not make the committee just for rubber-stamping a decision that has been made elsewhere. Already decided with perhaps your departmental head or the CEO what the committee should agree on? Then do not form the committee and make it appear as if it agreed to the measures that you and your superiors already wanted. Say no to puppet committees.

Committee members can smell insincerity and will drastically decrease their satisfaction and performance standards as a result all while increasing either their direct confrontation or indirect gossip about you as the leader and the situation.

Instead, be honest and upfront that certain new initiatives will happen and are pre-approved and that the committee’s job is merely to validate or raise concerns on what was earlier approved outside of the committee.

Third, give enough lead time so committee members can schedule. A lack of planning on your part does not justify an emergency on their part. Perhaps your committee members already have client meetings scheduled for the same time, or other internal meetings, or have an upcoming off-day or travel day on the books.

A committee looking at strategic planning, goal setting, or structuring is not urgent and does not justify same-day or next-day notices. Be professional. Refuse to take part in non-properly planned and notified committee meetings.

Non-emergency but urgent committee meetings should require at least three-day notice periods while non-urgent committee meetings should respect a seven or more days advanced notice.

Fourth, this should go without saying, but do not misrepresent what was discussed in the meeting to others who were not present.

Suppose you have a favourite project that you really want to accomplish. Do not add it onto committee talking points or minutes if you did not actually discuss it in the committee. Such scenarios happen with alarming frequency.

Fifth, substantial research by Neil MacLaren, among others, shows that committees usually side with the person who talks the most frequently. If you chair a meeting, ensure that each committee member gets the chance to speak. Use unique icebreaker techniques and games to get even quieter members to share their thoughts.

Sixth, avoid the curse of extroverts. While extroverted leaders can prove very inspiring for teams, they struggle with listening to committee members. If you are an extroverted leader, in each committee meeting do two additional tasks.

Start with stating how each member is a valued part of the team and why you appreciate each person and their contributions. Such action will force the extroverted leader’s brain to respect the committee members and listen more.

Next, the extroverted leader must not speak over someone when they are talking. While speaking over a fellow committee member is often a sign of excitement and not meant as disrespect, it actually makes the extrovert not listen to fellow members.

When the leader of a committee fails to listen, the creativity, depth, and performance of committee results suffer.

Seventh, honour the start and stop times. Start on time and end on time. Otherwise, committee members will lose respect in the committee and the process.

Eighth, incorporate mental health breaks into a committee meeting. Every 30 minutes, give members five or more minutes off to check their phones, respond to texts and emails, read the news, or use the facilities.

Otherwise, members will start multi-tasking, zoning out, and coming up with low or no participation excused. Make it known in advance that there will be breaks and at what intervals so members can plan themselves.

Ninth, use a web tool to seek committee member opinions about meeting times and days. A common free online meeting time collaboration tool is Doodle.com while Calendly.com is good for others or groups to book your own calendar times for committees.

Do not make an arbitrary decision about a meeting time and expect fellow professionals to conform to your schedule. Seek consensus on meeting time availability before locking down and announcing a meeting.

Tenth, do not send announcement texts, WhatsApp messages, or emails in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS to proclaim a meeting.

All capital letter usage is not professional and is psychologically insufficient since it slows the reader’s comprehension and reduces retention of the information. The brain is accustomed to reading English in normal sentence case.

Say no to mediocrity. Have your professionalism respected and simultaneously equally value the experience and worth of your subordinates and peers.

Decline to participate on committees that do not follow these rules above.

[email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor