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How to Navigate the Dreaded Design by Committee Event

By EventMB Studio Team

As an event planner, you want to have creative authority over your events. After all, you’re being paid for your expertise and your creative insights. Yet some organizations and clients insist upon a ‘design by committee’ approach, which possibly compromises your reputation. So how do you avoid turning out a mediocre event when you’re not the only cook in the kitchen?

Teamwork has become the trend in production. Collaboration is one of business’ favorite buzzwords. We design products through crowdsourcing, answer questions, even win game shows by asking what others think. That’s fine when having a consensus is a valuable thing. But in a creative undertaking, it often leads to frustration and limitations.  Steve Wozniak of Apple fame had this to say about inventors and the creative process in his memoir, “...Artists work best alone. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: work alone...not on committee. Not on a team.”

Groupthink is pervading our businesses, our schools, and even the design of our events. But allowing your attendees to have input into your programming is very different than designing your entire event by committee. Here’s how to avoid that:


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How to Navigate the Dreaded Design by Committee Event

Tips on Avoiding Design by Committee

It’s a very rare group that can come up with an amazing event in a group atmosphere. Most of the time people are afraid to make creative suggestions and they want to placate everyone in the group. Because of this, the ‘middle-of-the-road’ idea usually wins. While that may work for a sterile corporate event, it doesn’t inspire return guests or do much for retention.

  1. Be Straightforward

If you think your client can ‘handle the truth’, explain to them that they are paying you a great deal for your expertise. If they aren’t going to use it, they could save themselves some money and simply use an assistant who can follow orders. This may feel unnerving to say it to them so bluntly but these are likely not the type of clients you want to work with anyway or you wouldn’t even be bothered by the design committee.

If it’s not a client but your employer that wants to design by committee, ask a higher-up the reason behind it. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you or your skills. It’s often something as basic as a manager reading a leadership book that suggests buy-in as a way to build a stronger culture.

However, if you absolutely can’t get rid of design by committee you can learn a few tricks to make it more manageable.

2. Get Feedback Where Valuable

If they absolutely refuse to give up groupthink, use design by committee in minimal ways. Offer up a choice and let the committee decide when it’s not critical to the event or design and limit their choices. For instance, let’s say you want an orange centerpiece. Narrow down some options and let them select between them.

Including them partially and hearing their ideas is of benefit to everyone involved. They still feel a part of things and your creative vision remains largely intact.

3. Create an “Electoral College”

Even the founding fathers in the U.S. Constitution and the Ancient Greeks had concerns over direct or absolute democracy. In Athens, they limited the vote to certain groups of people. In the U.S. we have the electoral college. Both of these ideas were designed to limit  collective whims.

Whether you agree with the political thoughts behind these limitations or not, appointing a filter to your committee will serve you well. After all, not every idea is a good one. Appointing someone as a filter who can hear ideas and decide which ones get passed on for consideration can help you avoid hours of people telling you about something they saw on Pinterest.

4. Designate Roles and Boundaries

Have you ever watched a sports fan yelling out plays to the TV? An event committee with no event experience can be much the same way. That’s why it’s beneficial to designate roles and boundaries from the beginning.

Look at the skill sets of those on your committee and give them jobs based on what they’re good at. For instance, a member with an analytical mind might have an event idea like balloon sculptures that makes you cringe. It’s so awful that you refuse to even hear the suggestion. But that does not mean that same person can’t be of incredible value to the event team. They might be well-suited to help you find cost-cutting alternatives to your event ideas. Give everyone a job and a chain of command in an area they excel. That way you’re getting buy-in in a way that can help you be your best too.

5. Perfect Your Group’s Timing

The influence and views of some people are critical in the beginning. Some people’s input isn’t really needed until mid-way through the planning. Some, if not brought in early, will delay the process when they’re finally brought in because critical knowledge was not in place. While others will delay it just because they can and feel left out of the earlier parts of the process.

Knowing when to bring someone in, the critical sign-offs are at each stage, and who can be left until the end as a final sign-off is key to keeping your event on time and on budget. If you bring someone in too early, they could delay the process. Too late and the same could occur. So if you’re working with a committee make sure you flesh out who is critical at what stage and act accordingly.

In Conclusion

Navigating your way through political situations within your event planning firm or with a client can be career ending if you don’t handle it well. When your business or client expects you to design by committee, you’ll likely find it frustrating and it won’t bring out your best. These ideas can help you manage the relationships and get more out of the experience. Remember, they opted to go with a professional. Sometimes you need to take the leadership role and show them your experience extends past event design.

Additional Information About Managing the Client

How to Get Your Event Clients to Think Bigger
10 Reasons Why Your Clients Ask for Discounts and What You Can Do About It
Bosses, Clients, and Coworkers...Oh My! 5 Ways to Manage Expectations
20 Reasons Why Your Event Clients Suck
Clients Don’t Buy What You Do. They Buy Why You Do It


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EventMB Studio Team
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