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Surviving and winning the game of committeemanship.

Players on a committee must have enough background to do the job and enough authority to participate in decision making. The author is a pathologist at the Tucson Medical Center and a faculty member of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Physicians and administrators judge pathologists and laboratory personnel in part by how they play the game of committeemanship. Unfortunately, laboratorians often struggle because they have not been taught the rules of the game.

Like many skills, proficiency in committeemanship requires close observation, discipline, practice, and self-critiquing . One must constantly"What is going on here'?" and "Why did things occur as they did?"

The committee's goals, usually set by past history or by-laws, provide a work environment. Actions of the committee can be analyzed and rated by answering the following questions:

How did the problems and tasks that were tackled relate back to the goals and priorities of the group'? What results were expected, and when were they accomplished'? At what cost'? How effectively did the group interact with groups above it, below it, and at its level'? How was the feedback of these other groups used'?

To further dissect the committee, look at its membership. A mixture of expertise and viewpoints, and of leaders and nonleaders, is ideal. Members should include initiators, who throw out ideas and start discussion; information givers, who find facts and develop opinions and analysis; clarifiers or summarizers, who can help build consensus and compromise; testers, who try out ideas for practicality; and encouragers, who praise and lend enthusiasm to the group's activities.

At the same time, the committee should consist of only those individuals necessary to conduct business and make decisions. All participants should have a valid reason for being there and be capable of buying into the process and the solutions. Members who are knowledgeable but have no authority prove to be ineffectual, while those who possess authority but no knowledge base will make unrealistic decisions.

To get a good idea of how well members can function, analyze their decision-making strengths and weaknesses. Also answer these questions: Does each member have an adequate background and motivation to do the job? Are there adequate committee direction and secretarial and other staff support for each member to pursue the group's goals? Are there enough time and money to get the job done? Was the leader given enough authority to carry through with theresponsibility?

Meeting objectives are shown in Figure 1. Before convening the group, its leader must decide whether there is enough work to justify a meeting. Routing a memo with attached articles and a request for comments will often suffice and save everyone time.

If a meeting is needed, good planning is a must. Questions to consider: Will you have the minimum number of players needed to get the job done? Will there be enough time to prepare for the meeting? Will enough facts be known at the time of the meeting?

If there are perpetual meeting problems-, reorganization should be considered. A committee's effectiveness is measured by its ability to meet its goals. Two ways to keep a rein on inefficient groups are sunset clauses and zero-based budgeting. A sunset clause sets an expiration date for the committee, while zero-based budgeting requires that all expenditures, such as for staff, continually be justified.

The game plan of a well -organized meeting is found in its agenda, which should be constructed to optimize results. Items should proceed in a logical order. Put housekeeping items first to allow stragglers to come in and the group to warm up. Position the most important issues early in the meeting, and place controversial items in the middle to allow for maximum participation.

A few words of clarification after each item are helpful. List who is responsible for the item, and specify whether there will be a group discussion or a debate.

Prior to the meeting, the leader should preview the agenda. Is it realistic? How much time should be set aside for discussion of each item? What does the leader expect to get from each member of the group? What problems may arise on each topic?

The agenda and background information should circulate at least 48 hours before the meeting; for larger groups and more complex issues, make it up to one week before. Many effective committees divide up into smaller groups prior to the main meeting, to focus on specific agenda issues. This makes the overall committee meeting more time-efficient.

One of the most self-defeating leadership mistakes is not to begin or end the meeting on time. If you start on time, latecomers will learn that punctuality is imperative. Do not stop a meeting to review previous discussion, unless it is absolutely necessary. Ending meetings as planned encourages future attendance and participation. Put the adjournment time on the agenda, and stick to it.

The maximum productive time of most meetings is an hour and a half, with a break somewhere in between; the most efficient span is 45 minutes. It is better to schedule two short meetings or form a subgroup to tackle a thorny issue outside the meeting than to hold the entire group too long. One way to get a meeting to adjourn on time is to start an hour before lunch or before quitting time.

Attention to physical detailsfor example, an accessible location, a room of appropriate size, and audiovisual resources--can facilitate the group's productivity. How many meetings have you been to that competed with a loud group in the next room? Someone should be placed in charge of meeting room arrangements.

If a demonstration is planned, make sure all the participants will be able to see it. Have the demonstrators set up and rehearse prior to the meeting. For better group understanding, try running two demonstrations of an apparatus-one at regular speed, the other more slowly with each step explained. Another effective technique is to allow participants to practice with the system after the second demonstration.

Seating arrangements help set the meeting atmosphere. Sitting face to face promotes opposition and conflict, while sitting side by side makes disagreement and confrontation harder. Arrangement of the chairs in a circle is best because it promotes openness and collegiality.

If the members are around a rectangular table, the dead man's comer is on either side of the chairman when he or she sits at the center of one long side-you tend to be overlooked there. Incontrast, if you sit next to the chairman at the head of the table, it is a sign of honor or favor.

Now for the main business: group problem solving. Questions that will define any problem are listed in Figure II. To understand an issue, the group must also know why it is being discussed at this time. The best ways to introduce a subject for discussion are listed in Figure III.

The group has to decide on its method of arriving at a solution. Will it be through consensus or a debate with a vote and a majority and minority opinion? If neither consensus nor a decisive vote takes place, the discussion should be tabled until a resolution is possible.

To generate potential solutions, many committees use brainstorming, a technique that works best in groups of 10 or less. Everyone should be encouraged to unleash his or her ideas; the atmosphere is informal, and the emphasis is on full expression without criticism until the session reaches its time limit or an agreed number of ideas are generated. A sufficient number of recorders should be present to handle the barrage of ideas.

Choosing a solution is the next step. Advantages and disadvantages should be reviewed and weighed. Some components of proposed solutions may be mutually exclusive. In attempting a compromise, one needs to look at the chief differences. Are they factual, matters of opinion, or projected difficulties? How effective does each solution promise to be in resolving the problem at hand? Will this group carry out the solution, will another group, or will it be a joint effort?

Many factors impede progress toward a solution. For example, the group may feel that too much time and effort are invested in a procedure or program to abandon it for a new approach. Or the proposed solution may be based on poorly framed or limited data.

Another reason groups fail to make decisions is that members have a negative attitude toward problem solving in general. The tipoff to this attitude is a lot of time spent on irrelevant issues. If such an attitude is apparent, the group's first order of business is to correct it.

Sometimes individuals within the group interefere with decision making. Negative types of members include:

Sharks-Aggressive individuals who love to defeat others.

Mules-Blockers who will not compromise on anything.

Bulls-Committee members with a superiority complex who may be both authoritative and patronizing.

Butterflies-Faint-hearted individuals who avoid the real issues and try to lead the group away from its proper focus.

Bears-Participants with a special interest who do not share the broader interest of the group.

Moles-Individuals who withdraw into silence.

Roosters-Those who use the meeting to air personal points of view and tell anecdotes.

Hyenas-Clowns who have a disruptive behavior and underneath are cynical or indifferent to issues.

Snakes-Nitpickers who love to interrupt and are determined to undermine the group's effort.

Peacocks-Show-offs who love to grandstand and challenge authority.

Regardless of the distracting members, the meeting must be kept moving. The three chief ways of doing this are keeping the discussion relevant to the topic, formulating realistic solutions, and dealing with measurable quantities in considering outcomes. Techniques to focus the discussion are listed in Figure IV.

A committee leader can use key phrases to stimulate the flow of positive iedas: "I am glad you brought that up." . . "That's an interesting idea. Let's build on it." . . "You are on the right track. What else?" . . . "Good idea. Who else has a suggestion on this?"

Figure V shows some of the leader's responsibilities. Often, meetings fall because the leader did not control the time, agenda, or goals of the group. The garrulous must be contained by summarizing their input and moving on to another comment. Those who are silent should be drawn out. If the silence is due to agreement, no further contribution is needed. If the silence is due to hostility, however, the leader mustfind out what's causing the hostility. Finally, if the silence stems from intimidation, the leader must protect the weak.

A good chair will encourage the clash of ideas, and guide, mediate, probe, stimulate, and summarize. Watch out for suggestion squashers. Also don't ask the most authoritative person to comment first-the discussion may terminate prematurely. Figure VI gives tips on how to deal with difficult members, including some of those characterized as wildlife a few paragraphs above.

The leader should know when to close a discussion. At that point, he or she summarizes what the group has agreed on (its accomplishments) and indicates the who, what, where, when, and how of the next steps (assignments and further projects). This also helps the recorder determine what to put in the minutes. Some discussions, however, come to an end on their own (the signs are listed in Figure VII).

Many groups are thwarted by lack of support. This usually comes in the form of funding shortfalls. The group should know the progress of its budget on a year-to-date basis. It should also be aware of budgetary limitations and the reasons for them.

The minutes are a record of the work accomplished as well as the issues still pending before the group. The minutes should include follow-up action for the next meeting and assignments that have been referred to other groups or individuals.

In addition, minority viewpoints should be documented with each issue that is discussed. In these days of medicolegal and privacy issues, it is surprising that time isn't made in many hospitals to circulate minutes preliminarily among committee members so they can correct errors before final distribution.

Besides the standards for conducting a meeting, there are standards of behavior for committee leaders:

Don't defend yourself against an individual with superior authority. Hold that confrontation in private.

Turn a public confrontation into an opportunity to resolve a problem.

Be clear and concise when you speak. Avoid superlatives and hedge words. Practice your presentation and watch your body language.

Your appearance counts. You must took competent and successful. Pay attention to detail.

Be supportive of the group's purpose and not specifically against its projects.

Use humor judiciously. To better perceive the opinions of participants, watch closely how they react to your comments and others' comments.

And here are standards of behavior for committee members:

Keep the leader neutral and open to ideas and discussion.

Keep an eye on the accuracy of details.

Keep attention focused on the discussion or the problem if the leader doesn't.

Listen intently and critique.

Be positive, not negative or defensive.

Try to put forward compromise positions and promote solutions.

Harmonize: Give praise and support the right to have a different opinion.

Volunteer to perform tasks for the committee.

Good meetings don't just happen. They require their own set of interpersonal skills and an awareness of group dynamics.

Figure VII

Signs that a discussion is over

More facts are needed to progress on the issue. The meeting needs the views of parties who are not present. Members need more time to think about the issues or discuss them with colleagues outside the immediate group.

New developments are likely to alter the basis of the decision. There is insufficient time to go over the subject properly.

A subcommittee can settle the issue without taking the whole group's time.

Figure VI

How to deal with difficult committee members

The hairsplitter-Acknowledge this individual's point and note the meeting objectives and time constraints.

The non-stop talker-Tactfully interrupt, summarize the person's points, and move on to someone else.

The side conversationalists-Tell them their chatter wasn't heard by everyone, and ask them to repeat it for all to hear.

The flaunter of superiority-Recognize the participant's abilities, but then ask him or her to provide a solution for the group's most challenging problem. This usually is neutralizing.

The rehasher-Reassu re the participant that the point was well made, and ask if there are additional or new points.

The angry member-Acknowledge the anger, and offer to sort out the reasons for the feelings,

The automatic doubter-Reassure the individual that all ideas will be evaluated at a later time.

The interrupter--Insist that the speaker be permitted to finish,

The interpreter-Ask the participant to let others speak for themselves.

The disrupter-Ask a doodler, nailclipper, or anyone else who keeps trying to throw the meeting off track to stop immediately.

Figure I

Objectives of a committee meeting

To share data or to plan

To receive input or to see a demonstration

To analyze or solve a problem

To reach a group decision

To explain or gain support for a decision

To gain feedback or to create a new approach to solve a problem

Figure II

Defining a problem for the group

What is the background?

What specific questions are to be decided, and what impact does this problem have on the objectives, goals, and priorities of the group?

What factors must be weighed in deciding solutions?

What is the deadline or time frame?

What are the expenses?

What personnel effort is involved?

Figure IV

Techniques to focus a discussion

Keep the discussion from going over old ground or repeating,

Prevent the discussion from jumping too far ahead,

Prevent the discussion from going off to irrelevant or sterile areas.

Clear up misunderstandings of members by asking questions to insure that everyone knows the facts.

Periodically test the group for consensus.

Figure V

Responsibilities of a meeting leader

Control the meeting, but do not dominate it. Lead group members toward a solution, but don't manipulate them.

Show enthusiasm and professionalism. Keep the energy level high, and keep the discussion moving.

Put the group at ease.

Promote a sense of team effort and group identification.

Focus on the issues, not the personalities.

Be fair. Protect members and institutions from aggressive attack. Encourage all to contribute. Control aggressive, dominating members.

Give recognition.

Observe participants constantly, Watch for boredom and frustration, and deal with these promptly

Encourage the free flow of ideas from all members.

Listen. Don't judge. Paraphrase each point of view to make sure everyone understands it

In the discussion outline before the meetin , and stick to it.

Figure III

Introducing an issue for discussion

The story of the issue so far, including the present need for resolution

The lines of inquiry or action that have already been suggested or pursued

Arguments on both sides of these preliminary pursuits
COPYRIGHT 1988 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Spark, Ronald P.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Oct 1, 1988
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