• B2B organizations are increasingly forming cross-functional committees to drive business-critical initiatives
  • The negative connotation associated with decisions by committee is the result of poorly designed committees
  • To avoid poor results, establish clear objectives, choose a strong leader and ensure accountability

“A camel is a horse designed by committee” is just one of many sayings that reflect the negative connotation associated with designs or decisions made by committees. Yet it’s common in most B2B organizations to form cross-functional committees to drive business-critical initiatives, and this practice is increasing as marketing organizations strive for greater agility.

How do you ensure that these cross-functional committees don’t produce typical “designed by committee” outcomes? Use this simple checklist to prevent your next horse from turning into a camel.

1. Establish clear objectives. It’s not unusual for committees to be formed to support broad-based or ill-defined initiatives like “Lead the organization’s digital transformation.” What exactly does that mean? What will it entail? What is the desired timeframe and expected impact on the business? Establish a committee charter or mission statement that clearly communicates the desired outcomes and timeline to prevent the primary goal from being jeopardized by conflicting or competing agendas.

2. Appoint a strong leader. Ever heard the saying “Too many cooks in the kitchen” or “You can’t have everyone steering the ship”? Well, the same applies here. Even a committee composed of the organization’s best and brightest talent needs a strong leader who is officially appointed to arbitrate issues and prioritize activities.

3. Choose the right team. Opinionated. Extremist. Stickler. Dogmatist. You get the picture. If the person(s) you have in mind exhibits any of these traits, it’s a potential recipe for disaster. Successful committee outcomes require more than just representation from key stakeholder groups. Committee members should be thoughtfully appointed. They should be knowledgeable, skilled, and possess the right attitude – who are likely to thrive in a team environment, and are open to new ideas or new ways of thinking – those who have an opinion vs. being opinionated.

4. Create a shared purpose. Purpose is more than just establishing clear objectives. Purpose creates momentum and camaraderie that aligns the efforts of the team. Articulate the benefits of participation, including the value that it brings for committee members as individuals, as well as for the organization.

5. Ensure there is accountability. Decision by committee provides a safe haven for finger-pointing when things don’t go as planned. Establish measures of success and assign clear ownership for those outcomes.

6. Establish common processes. Committees can be think tanks producing a lot of great ideas, but they can sometimes fall short on the practical implementation and execution of those ideas. Using proven models and frameworks will provide a common language for communication, and form the basis for decisionmaking and prioritization.

7. Balance the workload. “I didn’t get to this because I was busy doing my day job.” Sound familiar? It’s the reality of tapping talent from across the organization to serve on committees. It’s essential to effectively balance the needs of the team with the responsibilities of their day-to-day roles, as well as understanding what is important.

8. Foster communication. Miscommunication and non-communication can result in misdirection and missed deadlines, and in turn, can create conflict within the group. Establishing an effective communication protocol for the committee will help protect the team from unnecessary strife. 

9. Structure the meetings. I know what you’re thinking  – “Not another blog post on how to run an effective meeting …” – but apparently, not enough people are implementing the lessons learned from these posts, because I still hear complaints about people attending poorly run meetings. At the very least, establish ground rules for how the meetings will be run and how the group will function.

10. Avoid artificial deadlines. We’ve all been there. We’re handed a project with a timeline for completion before the requirements have even been determined.  Part of the committee’s mission should be gathering requirements that will enable an informed decision for setting appropriate timelines. As a side note, once the timelines are set, be careful not to spend a lot of time reporting on what the committee has been up to lately. Instead, report on the committee’s progress toward the actual goal.

The negative connotation associated with decisions by committee is the result of a poorly designed and poorly implemented committees. Following these tips for success can help make cross-functional committees one of your strongest tools for achieving business alignment and agility.