A Committee Is Not Always the Answer


A Committee Is Not Always the Answer
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I looked up from my desk when George, an otherwise intelligent engineer who was my boss, strode purposefully into my office. As he told me in clear terms about his position on a necessary decision regarding the project I was working on, I couldn’t help thinking about the past several times that this same scene had occurred. 

Everyone who worked for him joked about it, visualizing an imaginary trip wire at the office door that made him uncertain about what he had just said. True to form, as he was going out, he stopped, turned around and said, “But maybe we should do it a different way,” rambling on about forming a committee to come up with the correct decision.

But forming a committee to make this decision was definitely not the right answer. George was a highly paid executive who was hired to make decisions and execute them. He had the background, experience and company status to do so. But he often vacillated, resulting in uncertainty and delay. It was a serious problem that damaged our team’s effectiveness.

A lot has already been said about the pros and cons of committees, but managers like George who use group think opportunities like this to avoid responsibility and accountability for their decisions are a growing problem today. “Our age will be known as the age of committees,” British publisher Ernest Benn said.

The use of physically distant committee members on the internet makes this situation even worse. When groups consider a course of action on Zoom or Webex, individuals lack the opportunity to observe each other’s body language, and their level of commitment is not as high as it would be in physical meetings. It’s much easier on the internet to be faceless and hide behind group decisions. 

Committees, particularly large ones, are slow and have an innate tendency to waste time. And what’s worse, either the most aggressive personalities highjack the outcome or the recommendations are dumbed down to the average level of its participants. TV personality Art Linkletter highlighted that problem when he said, “Committees are to get everybody together and homogenize their thinking.”  

In my own experience, nothing outstanding, innovative or earth-shaking has ever come out of a committee. Fast action is nearly impossible, and unfortunately no individual is truly accountable.

There are times, of course, when committee meetings are needed to understand and utilize different experiences, skills and points of view in order to help solve a problem. But good managers can achieve similar results in much less time through discussions with diverse and knowledgeable individuals, either separately or in regularly held meetings. Some managers and executives seem to have forgotten that this is what they have been hired to do. As philosopher Elbert Hubbard observed, “A committee is a thing which takes a week to do what one good man can do in an hour.”

Economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell remarked that “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”  I certainly agree with that.  

Jack Goodhue, management coach, can be reached at

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