by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | September 01, 2005

Committee. The word can frighten even the most seasoned planner. But committees are a fact of life in many organizations and associations. Don’t be caught off guard, then, when a manager or client asks you to work with other individuals in the organization who might have only the vaguest hint of what planning meetings and events entails.
Following are some battle-tested tips for effectively working with and using a planning committee.

" Get the inside scoop. First, determine the reason for the committee. Sometimes this information is best gathered directly from your boss or client; other times it might require discussing the issue with trusted colleagues. However the research is conducted, it is a good starting point to understanding the dynamics behind the group effort.
    Among the possible reasons for a committee approach is politics: Savvy managers might view involving others in the company as an opportunity to demonstrate their department’s value to others up and down the executive chain, or an opportunity to market the meetings department to different areas of the firm or association.
    Of course, top brass might simply want to encourage teamwork by gathering individuals with varying areas of expertise.
    For in-house events, such as a company-wide meeting, gala or celebration, committees might make the function more democratic, ensuring that all departments and divisions have a stake in the matter.
    For associations, it is not unusual to work with a local host committee at the destination when planning national or international events.
    " Set ground rules. Find out what results your manager or client expects from the group effort. Ask about the specific goals they have for the committee, how much input the group will have (for instance, will members get involved in site or venue selection? Will they have any  influence on the agenda?) and who, at the end of the day, gets to call the shots.
" Create a schedule. Determine how often the group will meet. While you might have a specific schedule in mind, the others might prefer to meet more or less often; ask about group members’ availability and preferences.
Keep track of the meetings’ minutes and send a copy to committee members afterwards including those who weren’t able to attend.
    " Make it voluntary. Resentment will obliterate the potential you can glean from a committee. Make participation voluntary, and attempt to omit obligations. Recommend that committee members send a representative in their place if they cannot make a meeting.
    " Leverage expertise. Draw out the committee members’ knowledge and experience. Avoid a free-for-all atmosphere by creating a very specific agenda that will remain big-picture and avoid minutia. Involve participants in ways that leverage their areas of expertise.
    For example, the marketing department can be called upon to critique invitation copy. The sales department and human resources representatives can be called upon for recommendations on seating, ensuring that dignitaries, honorees or top clients are given choice tables with commensurate hosts.
    " Reap benefits. Building trust, developing empathy for other departments, collecting valuable interdepartmental information, and ensuring stakeholders requests are heard and integrated are incredibly valuable tasks. Similarly, this is an opportunity to market your services internally and to show top brass and other departments just how versatile you and the meetings department are.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is a marketing event consultant based in California’s Silicon Valley.