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As a consultant, I am invited into many organizations, and the number of committees I encounter these days astounds me. On one hand, I am an absolute fan of collaboration. Task forces, working groups, and project teams enable people to collaborate in a way that can be very efficient. Unfortunately, committees are often given the accountability and authority to make large decisions as a group. This is when problems occur. The idea that committees can be held accountable is number ten on our list of The Top 12 Fallacies That Get In The Way of Organizational Performance.

For a committee to make a decision, they must first negotiate to arrive at a consensus. This tends to result in decisions that reach some common denominator for the individuals involved in the decision making process, rather than decisions that are best for the organization overall.

If Everyone Is Accountable, Then No One Is Accountable

If there is a sign in the office kitchen stating that everyone is accountable for washing their own dishes, then there will always be dirty dishes in the sink. Everyone can't be accountable for keeping the kitchen clean. There must be one person in charge of making sure that it happens. In a much more serious way, the same holds true in committee work. There must be one individual as a single point of accountability.

Rather than making decisions by committee, high performing organizations identify the individual who is ultimately accountable for the work that needs to be done. Best practices state that there should be a single point of accountability as low as possible within the organization. But this doesn't eliminate teamwork; the individual accountable will still bring in the people who have a role to play in the work in question. However, when there is one person accountable for making final decisions, the group dynamic changes from one of negotiation to one of cooperation and gathering information.

In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John le Carré wrote, "A committee is an animal with four back legs." In other words, without front legs, it cannot determine the direction in which it moves. Leaderless committees waste time in consensus building. When no one has the authority to make final decisions, they can't reach effective resolutions, and with no one to delegate, it's hard to know who is accountable for what. Designating accountability to one individual with the proper authority and capability to manage the complexity of the task at hand ensures that the members of the committee are all moving in the same direction, and working towards the same goal.


Dwight Mihalicz

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