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Give your committees a good name by making sure they have a clearly defined purpose, then empowering the members to achieve it.

by Darylen Cote


“Not another committee!” How often have you felt that rising wave of frustration or heard others express it at the thought of one more parent group committee meeting? In fact, committees are the steam that keeps the engine of the larger group moving toward its goals. But committee meetings can be tedious and unnecessarily time-consuming if they aren’t well-run. It’s worth taking a look at some of the components that can make committee work more rewarding instead of something to be dreaded.

One of the first steps a leader must take in accepting a committee assignment, or creating a committee in the first place, is to determine the purpose of the group and its relationship to the larger mission of the PTO. What’s the place of the committee in the grand scheme of things? What is its specific charge? Sometimes a committee is like a task force, working on a specific, time-limited project. For example, once the annual “Tea and Sympathy” event for parents of kindergartners is over, the committee is no longer needed. Its duties have a definite ending.

Other committees are “standing” committees; their charge lasts a long period of time, perhaps as long as the group itself exists. The publicity committee, for instance, has a job that never ends. The specific goals, objectives, or activities might change, but the committee’s charge remains the same: Create visibility for the group. When you join a committee, be sure you understand exactly what you’re signing up for—or are planning to assign to others.

First What, Then When

Once the purpose of the committee is clearly articulated, a broad timeline for the project (or the year, if it is an ongoing committee) can be created. What are the major milestones that need to be accomplished? Working backward, you can outline those key results on a timeline so that a clear picture emerges of what work is to be done and by when.

This step can be tackled as you prepare for your first committee meeting, or it might be done at the first meeting. Helpful tools to use at this stage include notes from past similar events and materials gathered from the ptotoday.com message boards or other sources that help you discern the big steps in a project or ongoing job.

All the know-how you need to be an effective and successful parent group leader!

From that point, those large milestones need to be further dissected into smaller, discrete jobs that can then be assigned to an even smaller group or an individual. The key here is to make sure that each job is clear and meaningful. Are there envelopes to be stuffed? A small group can have a great time getting that done. However, designing the flyer that goes in the envelopes may best be assigned to an individual on the committee who has some expertise in that area (or who can be recruited by the committee for that job).

The role of the leader at this point is to orchestrate the whole—to make sure that everyone has a meaningful job to do and that each step along the way contributes toward the overall project or purpose of the committee. The leader must also often work alongside committee members, making sure each person has the tools or resources she needs to do the job.

Coordination and communication, within both the committee and the larger group, are absolutely crucial to making committee work a pleasure instead of a burden.

As you plan the work of the committee, keep in mind the reasons that people volunteer for this kind of work. Everyone wants to belong to something and make a meaningful contribution. Try to make sure that everyone who wants to be is included and has more than busywork to do. Building fun into the tasks with plenty of opportunity for laughter can smooth the way when people don’t know each other well. Stuffing those envelopes goes a lot faster when there’s easy conversation–and don’t forget the snacks!

Once the job is done or a major milestone is met, be sure that individual efforts are recognized and celebrated, even with an informal thank-you. Don’t wait until the end-of-the-year volunteer recognition celebration to reward people with thanks for their work.

If folks feel valued and appreciated, they’re much more likely to volunteer for the next committee. It’s a sure antidote to the “not another committee” syndrome!

Originally posted in 2005 and updated regularly.


# tracy 2008-08-23 07:14
Great outline on formation of committees...giving them a purpose, goals and always remembering to give that extra thanks for the effort put forth by those who are not working for you, but rather with you, to reach a common goal.

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