10+ Sure-fire Strategies to Avoid Death by Committee

Photo by Cayusa via Flickr

Due to the global economic meltdown, some organizations have cancelled corporate events. Others are using a variety of strategies to streamline their corporate events budgets including:

– closing event planning departments or laying off event planners
– laying off executive assistants, getting each executive assistant to support 2 – 3 executives, delegating their event planning duties to less experienced employees
– forming cross-functional teams of employees to plan and execute corporate events

Cross-functional teams provide an excellent opportunity for building the skill set of your team. If not thought through, there can be unintended consequences that can derail your corporate events. Some of the unintended consequences include:

– committees of junior employees tend to make decisions based on what is “fun”, not what is of strategic importance, doable, practical, or logistically advisable
– equal weight tends to be given to the vote of each team member regardless of experience, groupthink sets in and decisions get watered down to the lowest common denominator
– expectations of suppliers such as event planners, venues and caterers can be unrealistic and this places a strain on relationships
– the planning cycle can get thrown out of its usual sequence leading to delays and “spinning your wheels”

Here is a baker’s dozen of sure-fire strategies that every event planner would be wise to share with clients to help nix the “death by committee” syndrome.

Get the Right Resources and Structure in Place

1. By all means use the services of a professional event planner but ensure that the committee takes his or her advice seriously. If your budget is limited, use the event planner as a consultant. Vet decisions you are considering with the event planner. Review proposed options, get feedback, identify potential problems, and get ideas for solutions.

If the committee has a vision that is “carved in stone”, save money by hiring an event coordinator rather than an event planner. The role will be to take direction from your committee, do some of the legwork and assist you with execution. That would be a better fit for your requirements and a more cost effective strategy than hiring an event planner.

2. Use committees of junior employees to plan social or recreational events, not initiatives with strategic significance. Planning a company picnic or Christmas party is a great developmental opportunity for staff. Initiatives with strategic significance such as business team building sessions, executive retreats, team building retreats, and conferences do need to be steered and driven “from the top” or they will be watered down and decisions will be made on what seems like the most “fun”.

3. For large groups, remember that logistics are king. Logistics will make or break your event. An event planner can help you develop a sound logistical plan to ensure that your event flows smoothly. Even if you place a premium on “fun”, no will have fun if hundreds of people are running around at a chaotic and disorganized event.

Ensure Effectiveness with Executive Involvement

4. An executive briefing for the event planner is crucial. Ensure that your event planner meets with the executive sponsor before beginning the planning process to obtain a clear, specific, and unfiltered briefing re: objectives and priorities. To ensure that the initiative is still on track and in line with his or her vision, there should also be executive checkpoints:

– halfway through the planning cycle
– a few weeks before the event

5. A 15 minute executive briefing for the committee and task force should is also critical. This will give the event planner an opportunity to refer back to the initial briefing if things are starting to get off track.

6. Delegate fact finding and brainstorming but never decision making. Setting a group of inexperienced employees loose to make decisions without guidance and direction is a recipe for disaster. Ultimate strategic decision-making should rest with a member of your executive team. Logistical and tactical decisions should rest with a director, executive assistant or other experienced team member.

Simplify Planning and Decision Making

7. Use a two-tiered structure consisting of a small committee with decision making authority and a smaller task force to support them.

8. When building your committee, follow a rule of 3. Keep your committee to 3 members. This is a nice manageable number for making decisions and an odd number in case some decisions have to be put to vote. The recommended composition for this committee is:

– 1 member or your executive team or director
– an experienced executive assistant or manager
– 1 team member who has previously served on a task force

Leverage the Power of Tasks Forces (Sub-Committees)

9. Have a larger task force (or sub-committee) of no more than 6 individuals to work with the committee. Their role is to brainstorm, contribute ideas, and execute decisions and plans. However, this task force should not have decision-making authority. You want informed decisions not “majority rules” regardless of the soundness of decisions.

10. Ensure that at least one task force member has experience in planning a variety of events. One powerful strategy that is often overlooked is to have an executive assistant or one of your internal facilitators or trainers coach and mentor the team. Often, event planning expertise resides within your organization. Tap into it, use it and transfer it to other members of your team.

11. Train your task force. Use an event planner or internal resource such as an executive assistant to give your task force some basic training about project management, planning, decision making (in preparation for future responsibilities), hosting procedures, conflict management, customer relations, etc. This training can be provided in modules throughout the project.

Get Down to Specifics

12. Develop a full project plan and give each member of your task force a specific area of responsibility. Develop detailed checklists for the planning process, set up and the actual event. Get task force members to do fact finding and bring information, ideas and suggestions back to the group. Possible areas of responsibility include:

– venue
– catering
– entertainment
– printing and duplication
– invitations and RSVPs
– design of nametags, table markers, programmes

13. Responsibility for components with strategic significance should rest with an experienced member of your committee (of 3). As stated earlier, initiatives with strategic significance such as business team building sessions, executive retreats, team building retreats, and conferences need to be steered and driven “from the top”.

Next Steps

These strategies have been learned in the school of hard knocks. These steps are guaranteed to help you avoid “death by committee when planning your next corporate event. Share them with your clients, refer to them and use them often.

About The Author
Anne Thornley-Brown

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based management consulting firm specializing in team building and executive retreats.

Comment Policy Comments
  • mmcallen

    One great resource is http://www.meetingarchitecture.com/ by Marteen Vanneste. He is working on having a Meeting Architecture position which ensure the education, motivation and networking areas are covered in your meeting. Making sure you get the most from your meetings and events.

    Mike McAllen

  • I am interested in comments and reactions to this article. This is a common problem in organizations and I would love to have your take on “death by committee”. Have you ever encountered it? If so, how have you handled it? How do you avoice it.

Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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