Fight the culture of committees

When we get to working in groups, humans often do strange and counter-productive things. Take committees. It's a human construct that produces inferior results, at a slower pace, and at much higher levels of frustration. I've worked in government, banking, startups, non-profits, and design. Without fail, committees, with only slightly different hues, could be found in every situation. 

And yet we live with them. Why?

We're following the committee, wherever it may go

Perhaps it's a fear of leadership. Committees form so that no single person leads and thereby no single person holds responsibility for the outcome. Abdicating ownership of the result allows everyone who touches the project to have another person (or the whole group) to blame. To put it bluntly, I think committees in most forms are institutionalized cowardice. But the real tragedy is that without responsibility for marking the course, committees kill projects, not with a swift sword of decisiveness, but a thousand tiny cuts of aimlessness. 

The committee is insidious. Since it comes cloaked by inclusion, you might have missed the signs that you have fallen victim.

  • Does more than one person give feedback directly to the design team? 
  • Do you forward emails directly to the design team from other stakeholders or even friends containing changes or "thoughts"?
  • After being added to the project in the project management software like Basecamp, do you invite a bevy of people from your own company without permission from the design team?
  • Ever invited a team member to join the call at the last minute?

All these are a result of a committee mindset.

...committees kill projects, not with a swift sword of decisiveness, but a thousand tiny cuts of aimlessness.

If you are serious about building a product that's the best it can be, one that makes an impact on the world and cares deeply for its users, you have to fight the urge to committee-itize the process. Your weapon? Trust in the individual. This principle means putting one person (maybe yourself) in charge with the sole responsiblity for the outcome of the product. If one person does not have complete responsibility, no one has responsibility. However, that culture comes from cultivation. It won't grow on it's own.

Risk exclusivity

Here's a seed. You can start by gaining agreement from all internal stakeholders to try a single contact for the design team. the individual will have the responsibility for hearing everyone out, but also for filtering and and gaining agreement on those ideas before they get to the designer. One voice of authority trumps a chorus of feedback when you are relying your message to be interpreted clearly.

You also need to be very intentional about who gets to interface with the design team. The committee mindset is to invite everyone to the party. Forget that. Risk exclusivity. Remember, the designer has to know whose lead he or she is supposed to follow. With one compromise, direction can change meeting to meeting, email to email. Threads beget threads and soon, your well-intentioned party is loud, obnoxious, beer-soaked clean-up job. 

Sure, you could wait for the designer to dictate professional, responsible behavior, but why not start now? Product managers, CEOs, and anyone else charged with bringing products to market, if they want the best results, should have an interest in keeping the committee out of projects. Plant the seed of responsibility.