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Committees and Group Decision Making
1 Explain the nature of various types of committees.
2 Outline the reasons why committees and groups are used, especially their use in decision mak¬ing.
3 Present the disadvantages of committees, especially in decision mak¬ing.
4 Explain the nature of plural executives and how and where they are likely to be used.
5 Outline the ways committees tend to be misused.
6 Discuss the requirements for using committees effectively.
7 Describe the advantages and disadvantages of small groups other than committees in managing.
One of the most ubiquitous and controversial devices of organization is the committee. Whether it is referred to as a &quot;board,&quot; &quot;commission,&quot; &quot;task force,&quot; or &quot;team,&quot; its essential nature is the same, for the committee is a group of persons to whom, as a group, some matter is committed. Its right purpose can result in greater motivation, improved problem solving, and increased output.
In a study of subscribers to the Harvard Business Review, only 8 percent of the respondents indicated that they would eliminate committees if it were within their power. The problem, then, is not the existence of committees, but rather the way they are conducted and where they are used.
THE NATURE OF COMMITTEES
Because of varying authority assigned to committees, much confusion has resulted as to their nature. Some committees undertake managerial functions, and others do not. Some make decisions; others merely deliberate on problems without authority to decide. Some have authority to make recommendations to a manager, who may or may not accept them, while others are formed purely to receive information, without making recommendations or decisions.
A committee may be either line or staff, depending upon its authority. If its authority involves decision making affecting subordinates responsible to it, it is a plural executive—a line committee; if its authority relationship to a superior is advisory, then it is a staff committee.
Committees may also be formal or informal. If established as part of the organization structure, with specifically delegated duties and authority, they are formal. Most committees with any permanence fall into this class. Or they may be informal, that is, organized without specific delegation of authority and usually by some person desiring group thinking or group decision on a particular problem. This kind of motivation, plus the occasional need for gathering together in one room all the authority available to deal with an unusual problem, gives rise to many of the numerous conferences in organizational life.
Moreover, committees may be relatively permanent, or they may be tempo¬rary. One would expect formal committees to be more permanent than the informal, although this is not necessarily so. A formal committee might be established by order of a company president, with appropriate provision in the organization structure, for the sole purpose of studying the advisability of building a new factory and be disbanded immediately upon completion of its task. And an informal committee set up by the factory manager to advise upon improvement of product quality or to help coordinate delivery dates with sales commitments might continue indefinitely.
Committees are prevalent in business. A board of directors is a commit¬tee, as are its various constituent groups, such as the executive committee, the finance committee, the audit committee, and the bonus committee. Occasionally, one finds a business managed by a management committee instead of a president. And almost invariably under the president there will be a variety of management or policy committees, planning committees, wage and salary review committees, grievance committees, task forces for particular projects, and numerous other standing and special committees. Moreover, at each level of the organization structure, one or more committees are likely to be found. Indeed, a survey by Robert H. Hayes & Associates, Inc., of the 500 largest industrial enterprises showed that group management increased from 39 to 70 percent in the early 1970s alone.
The use of formal committees appears to be related to the size of the enterprise. In the study of Harvard Business Review subscribers it was found that of the organizations with over 10,000 employees, 94 percent had regular or standing committees. This compares with 64 percent of the enterprises with fewer than 250 employees reporting the use of such committees.
REASONS FOR USING COMMITTEES
One need not look far for reasons for the widespread use of committees. Although the committee is sometimes regarded as having democratic origins and as being characteristic of democratic society, the reasons for its existence go beyond mere desire for group participation. Committees are widely used even in authoritarian organizations, such as Soviet Russia and Communist China.
Group Deliberation and Judgment
Perhaps the most important reason for the use of committees is the advantage of gaining group deliberation and judgment—a variation of the adage that &quot;two heads are better than one.&quot; A group of people can bring to bear on a problem a wider range of experience than a single person, a greater variety of opinion, a more thorough probing of the facts, and a more diverse training in specialized aspects. Very few important business problems fall entirely into a single area such as production, engineering, finance, or sales. Most, on the contrary, require more knowledge, experience, and judgment than any individual possesses.
However, one of the advantages of group deliberation and judgment, not to be obtained without an actual meeting, is the stimulation resulting from discussion of ideas and the cross-examination techniques of the committee meeting. Leading, as it does, to clarification of problems and development of new ideas, this interchange has been found to be especially enlightening in policy matters. It is true that sometimes the results obtained by group judgment are superior to those obtained by individual judgment.
Fear of Too Much Authority in a Single Person
Another reason for the widespread use of committees is the fear of delegating too much authority to a single person. This fear, especially pronounced in government, dictated to the framers of the American Constitution not only the establishment of a two-house legislature and a multimember Supreme Court but also the division of the powers of government among the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President. Fear of delegating too much authority to an individual has been experienced in educational organizations and in charitable and religious enterprises.
This fear has had less influence in business than in other types of organization. Business enterprises have, for one thing, developed primarily from small begin¬nings within the institution of private property, with its implications of authority of the owner; workers, too, have been free to avoid abuse of power by moving from one company to another; and the overriding importance of efficiency, finally, has favored the single manager. At the same time, the traditional existence of a board of directors as the top managing group of the business corporation may be traced, to a great extent, to the fear of property owners of delegating too much authority to a managing director.
This motive has likewise influenced the formation of many internal business committees. A committee may be established to make recommendations on a problem largely because the president or department head does not wish to take full responsibility for making a decision or to trust the decision to a subordinate. Bonus committees often result from such motivation, and major financial and capital investment policies are developed by committees, partly because of unwillingness to trust a single individual with complete authority to make such important decisions.
Representation of Interested Groups
The desire to have various interested groups represented in policy matters makes itself felt in all branches of government where either law or tradition requires that the two major political parties, various sections of the country, or various pressure groups be represented.
Representation plays a part, too, in the establishment and staffing of commit¬tees in business. Boards of directors are often selected on the basis of groups interested in the company and, perhaps more often, on the basis of groups in which the company has an interest. When executives have a particularly difficult internal problem involving managers and specialists in various departments and activities, they may choose committee members in such a way as to give these interested parties representation. They may ostensibly do this in order to get a more balanced group judgment and a more diversified point of view, but they may actually be doing it to ensure that these groups will be represented and will thereby feel a sense of loyalty and commitment to the decision reached.
Coordination of Departments, Plans, and Policies
There is general agreement that committees are very useful for coordinating activities arrangements among various organizational units. For example, in one study 90 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement that &quot;committees promote coordina¬tion among departments.&quot; There was similar agreement on this point among various levels, although lower-middle management agreed slightly less (a little over 80 percent) than upper-middle and top management (about 90 percent agreed with the statement).
Committees are also useful for coordinating planning and the execution of programs. The dynamics of modern enterprise place a heavy burden on its managers to integrate plans and activities. With complications, change, and numerous specialized departments, it is difficult to coordinate every activity, every subordinate plan, and every expenditure.
A committee permits the individuals concerned not only to obtain firsthand a picture of overall plans and of their place in them but also to contribute suggestions on the spot for improvement of plans. Committees also furnish a place where agreement may be reached on the steps in coordination.
Transmission and Sharing of Information
Committees are useful for transmitting and sharing information. All group members affected by a mutual problem or project can learn of it simultaneously, and decisions and instructions can be received uniformly with opportunities for clarification. The time thus saved may be considerable; and the spoken word, with its possibilities for overtones and emphasis and the opportunities for clarification, may carry its point better than even carefully written memorandums.
Consolidation of Authority
A manager in a department, branch, or section often has only a portion of the authority necessary to accomplish a program, this authority is known as splintered authority. Good organization practice normally provides managers with the power appropriate to their position. However, this is not possible in every instance, and some matters call for the exercise of authority that the manager at the level concerned does not possess.
One way to handle problems of this sort is to refer them upward in the organizational hierarchy until they reach a point at which the requisite authority exists. But this place is often in the office of the president, and the problem may not be of sufficient importance to be decided at that level. Suppose, for example, that a customer of a machine-tool manufacturer wished a slight but unusual change in design of a piece of equipment. He or she would approach the sales department, which, if there were no established procedure for handling this change, could not act without the authority of the engineering department, the production depart¬ment, and the cost estimating department. In this case, the sales manager might establish a special purpose committee to study the problem, to agree on the nature and cost of the change, and to use the combined authority of its members to approve the request.
This informal use of the committee gives much flexibility to organization. However, consolidating splintered authority through a committee should be watched carefully to ascertain whether the organizational structure itself might not be changed to concentrate in one position the appropriate authority to make recurring decisions.
Motivation through Participation
Committees permit wide participation in decision making. Persons who take part in planning a program or making a decision usually feel more enthusiastic about accepting and executing it. Even limited participation can be helpful.
The use of committees to motivate subordinates to get behind a program or decision requires skillful handling. It is by no means certain that deliberations of this kind will kindle enthusiastic support, for they can also result in the deepening of existing divisions among participants. On the other hand, there are people who seem to be against every move unless they have been previously consulted. Thus, it requires a skillful chairperson to direct conflicting interests toward common objectives.
Avoidance of Action
It cannot be denied that committees are sometimes appointed by managers when they do not want any action to ensue. One of the surest ways to delay the handling of a problem and even to postpone a decision indefinitely is to appoint a committee, and sometimes many subcommittees, to study the matter, particularly if the membership is carefully selected with delay in mind. In organizations of all kinds, skillful managers resort to this delaying action when they see fit.
DISADVANTAGES OF COMMITTEES
Certain dangers of committees have been so widely publicized that many managers make little use of them. Disparaging attitudes are reflected in such definitions as &quot;a committee is made up of the unfit selected by the unwilling to do the unnecessary&quot; or &quot;a place where the loneliness of thought is replaced by the togetherness of nothingness.&quot;
High Cost In Time and Money
The cost of committee action in time is likely to be considerable. A committee may require members to travel some distance to reach a meeting. During the meeting, all member-snave the right to be heard, to have their points of view discussed, to challenge and cross-examine the points of view of others, and to analyze the reasons for a considered group conclusion. The spoken word, though valuable for emphasis and clarification, is seldom concise, and the &quot;thinking out loud&quot; that takes place is sometimes a waste of time for those who must listen. If the committee is supposed to reach a unanimous or nearly unanimous decision, the discussion is likely to be lengthy. And if a decision can be reached quickly, the meeting may have been unnecessary in the first place.
The monetary cost of committee discussion can also be very high. One must consider not only the cost of executive time (which for even a $60,000-per-year executive runs to $30 an hour) but even more the cost to the company of loss of the executive time that would otherwise have been devoted to other important duties. However, it is quite possible that the cost of executive time in a group meeting might be less than when a superior meets individually with subordinates.
This cost in time and money becomes all the more disadvantageous when a committee is assigned a problem that could as well, or better, be solved by a single individual or by an individual with the help of a smaller and lesser-paid staff. Thus, the advantages of committee action must be considerable to offset the costs.
Compromise at the Least Common Denominator
Where committees are required to come to some conclusion or to reach some decision, there is danger that their action will be watered down or may even be meaningless. If the matter under consideration is so simple that differences of opinion do not exist, the use of committee time is wasteful. If differences of opinion exist, the point at which all or a majority of the committee members can agree will tend to be at the least common denominator. Most often this is not as strong and positive a course of action as that undertaken by an individual, who has only to consider the facts as he or she sees them and then reach a conclusion. Because of the necessity for seeking out common ground, committees often take innocuous action or defer action entirely.
The danger of compromise at the level of the least common denominator of agreement grows as the percentage of agreement felt necessary for committee action increases. Even committees whose authority delegation requires only majority agreement sometimes develop traditions of unanimity. Small groups of people frequently seek—from feelings of politeness, mutual respect, and humility —to reach conclusions on which all can agree. Since committee members are ordinarily picked from organization equals, reluctance to force a conclusion on a recalcitrant minority is understandable, increasing thereby the probability of weak decisions.
Another disadvantage of committees is that the time required for thorough deliberation, the discussion of peripheral or tangential subjects, and the difficulty of reaching agreement often result in adjournment without action.
Committee meetings are often characterized by an official and a hidden agenda. The hidden agenda pertains to the disguised individual motives of members. It is not unusual for these motives to prevent the committee from reaching agreement on the official topic of discussion since, if desires and feelings of members are flot candidly discussed, members may not really know what the committee, as a group, concludes.
Tendency to Be Self-destructive
Indecisiveness may give the chairperson or a strong member an opportunity to force the committee into a decision the way he or she wants it to go. Almost invariably, one person in a group emerges as the leader. But when an individual becomes dominant, the nature of the committee as a decision-making group of equals changes, and there actually emerges an executive with a group of followers or. advisers. Executives often delude themselves into believing that committees operate on group management principles as a group of equals, when, as a matter of fact, the &quot;team&quot; is composed of subordinate advisers or even yes-sayers following a superior's leadership.
Splitting off Responsibility
When authority to study, make recommendations, or arrive at a decision is delegated to a group, the fact is that the authority is dispersed throughout the group. Thus, individual members hardly feel the same degree of responsibility that they would if they personally were charged with the same task. This splitting of responsibility is one of the chief disadvantages of a committee. Since no one can practically or logically feel personally accountable for the actions of a group, no individual feels personally responsible for any action within it.
As was pointed out above, committees tend to seek unanimous or near-unanimous conclusions or decisions. Minority members are therefore in a strong position. By their insistence upon acceptance of their position or of a compromise position, they exercise an unwarranted tyranny over the majority. The minority members of a jury have such power.
THE PLURAL EXECUTIVE
Most committees are nonmanagerial in nature. However, some groups are given the power to make decisions and to undertake one or all of the managerial functions of planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling. It is this latter type of committee that is referred to as the &quot;plural executive.&quot;
The plural executive may be established by law, or it may result from a managerial decision. Examples of the former are the board of directors of a corporation and the plural executive (commission, board) established by various legislatures to operate one of their agencies. In the case of the business corporation, legislatures have traditionally required that the board be elected to act for the stockholders. State and federal legislatures have, especially in recent years, provided for direction of most government agencies by a single manager, but in many instances plural executives are still operating.
The extent of authority to manage and to make decisions held by a plural executive is not always easy to ascertain. Some, such as the board of directors, clearly have this power, although they may not exercise it. Some companies have been managed from the top, on a day-to-day or weekly basis, by a plural executive, but this is rare.
There are, however, many boards of directors and executive committees of organizations which potentially have the power to manage but actually do not, since decisions are made by a prominent stockholder or a strong leader in the group.
Role in Policy Making
The plural executive is often found in the field of strategy or policymaking. Many companies have an executive or management committee to develop major plans and adopt basic strategy. They go by various names for example: General Motors has its executive and finance committees.
The extent of authority of these committees varies considerably, although their influence on decision making is perhaps greater in strategic planning than in any other area. These committees also engage in control, for their concern with strategic plans must be followed up to make sure that events conform to decisions.
Furthermore, these committees are often useful in settling differences of opinion or in the settlement of questions of organizational jurisdiction. The plural executive is an ideal arbitrator of disputes since a determination by a group will usually be accepted by contesting parties as being more impartial than that of a single arbiter. Besides, personality clashes in a given situation are more easily submerged in group action.
Where committees are successful in strategy formulation, they are dependent upon accurate and adequate staff work. A committee can hardly develop a proposal, forecast probable profits and costs from alternative courses of action, or investigate the numerous tangible and intangible factors influencing a basic decision. These are matters for study, and the committee is a notoriously poor study or research device. Therefore, if group deliberation is to be productive, facts and analyses must be developed and presented so that the members have readily available the data upon which to base a decision.
Role in Policy Execution
Many companies and management experts distinguish between strategy and policymaking and execution. It has been said that the former is concerned with
the establishment of broad principles by which administration is guided, while
the latter is concerned with the daily conduct of the company's affairs—set¬
ting standards and procedures to guide and govern execution of policies, estab¬lishing controls to ensure adherence to standards, solving interdivisional disputes,
improving interdivisional coordination, and meeting various emergencies as they
In companies where this distinction is made, special committees are estab¬lished in functional areas—such as engineering, distribution, manufacturing, public relations, and labor relations—to deal with the more specialized and tech¬nical aspects of planning; such committees may make recommendations to policy committees or may bolster basic policy with detailed enabling plans and programs.
PLURAL VERSUS INDIVIDUAL EXECUTIVE
Committees without managerial authority are far more numerous than those which are true plural executives. While much experience exists in organization with committees and with plural executives, the benefits of group management, as compared to individual management, have not been widely studied.
American Management Association Survey
One attempt to measure the merits of group versus individual managing was made in a study some years ago by the American Management Association. Through interviews with executives and analysis of records of some twenty representative companies, some interesting results were found. Breaking down managing into twelve functions, the survey roughly estimated the proportion of each function that could (1) be exercised effectively by committee action; (2) be exercised effectively by committee action but more effectively by individual action; (3) be exercised by individual action, though helpfully supplemented by committee action; or (4) be effectively exercised only by individual action.
The results of this survey are summarized in the below Table. Although the sample is small, the breakdowns rough, and the percentages no more than approximate, the survey, even though some years old, shows what the top executives in some well-managed companies thought of group, as compared to individual, executive action. The survey results indicated a strong preference for the plural executive only in the settling of jurisdictional questions. The emphasis on the superiority of individual action in practically every function of managing is pronounced. Even where committee action was found effective (the first two classifications), though not in all cases as effective as individual action, the score in favor of committees, with one exception, was still not particularly high. While this survey was made some years ago, our experience and study lead us to believe the results are still valid.
The foregoing discussion of the plural executive points to certain conclusions. The plural executive succeeds fairly well in helping to coordinate the activities of managers. It has a high potential for aiding in defining objectives, selecting alternative ways of achieving them, and measuring the success attained. In terms of managerial functions, the plural executive is thus especially useful in planning and in certain of the broader aspects of control. However, all the disadvantages of the committee form apply with special force to the true plural executive.
Management function Can be exercised by committee effectively Can be exercised by committee but more effectively by individual Individual initiative essential but may be sup-plemented by committee Individual action essential; committee ineffective
Planning 20 20 25 35
Control 25 20 25 30
Formulating objectives 35 35 10 20
Organization 5 25 20 50
Jurisdictional questions 90 10
Leadership 10 90
Administration 20 25 25 30
Execution 10 15 10 65
Innovation 30 20 20 30
Communication 20 15 35 30
Advice 15 25 35 25
Decision making 10 30 10 50
MISUSE OF COMMITTEES
The committee form has often fallen into disrepute through misuse. The five following abuses should be avoided when committees are set up and operated.
In Place of a Manager
The weakness of the committee as a managing device has already been noted. Leadership is essentially a quality of individuals. If decision making is to be sharp, clear, prompt, and subject to unquestioned responsibility, it is better exercised by an individual, as is the leading of subordinates.
There are times, it must be admitted, when managerial effectiveness is not an ^eroding consideration. In certain government agencies the danger of putting too much authority in the hands of an individual may be so great as to supersede questions of pure efficiency. As a matter of fact, before criticizing the waste, duplication, and inefficiency of governmental management, one should face the question of whether these costs are a fair price to pay for curtailing possible abuses of authority. Similarly, in business, a certain area of decision might be so important to the welfare of the company and the dangers of abuse of authority in that area so great that no individual should be entrusted with this power.
One can hardly say that a committee has no place in management, but the advantages of group thinking and participation in policy questions can be gained in most cases through advisory committees. Most business committees function this way, leaving the real decision making and managing to the line executives to whom they report. As Ralph Cordiner, former president of the General Electric Company, has said, &quot;We have no committees to make decisions that individuals should make.&quot;
For Research or Study
A group meeting together can hardly engage in research or study, even though it may well weigh and criticize the results of these. When the solution to a problem requires data not available to a committee, no amount of discussion or considera¬tion can turn up the missing information. This is essentially an individual function, even though, of course, individuals may be coordinated into a team with individual research assignments. Most committees, therefore, need a research staff, providing at least analyses of alternative courses of action, historical summaries, or well-considered forecasts.
For Unimportant Decisions
Even where the committee is clothed with advisory authority only, the disadvantag¬es of this device should dictate that its use be limited to important matters. Moreover, no intelligent specialist or manager can help feeling uncomfortable when time is wasted by a group deliberating at length on trivial subjects. This impatience reaches its frustrating climax when a committee member insists on considering at length a question upon which a certain decision is a foregone conclusion.
For Decisions beyond Participants' Authority
Where committees are used for decision making, if committee members with authority attend the meetings or send duly empowered representatives, and if the agenda deals with matters within the competence of the members, no authority problem will be encountered. But, altogether too often, the executive with the requisite authority cannot or does not attend the meeting and sends a subordinate who has not been delegated the superior's authority or who hesitates to bind the superior. The result is that the committee cannot function as intended. Delay results as the substitute refers questions to the superior, and much advantage of group decision making and deliberation is lost.
To Consolidate Divided Authority
A disadvantage of departmentation is that authority is so delegated that, in some cases, no one except the chief executive officer has adequate authority to do what must be done. Even within departments or sections, authority may be so splintered that group meetings are necessary to consolidate authority for making decisions. If divided authority can be eliminated by changing the organization structure and the delegations of authority, recourse to a committee is certainly a misuse of the device.
SUCCESSFUL OPERATION OF COMMITTEES
There is evidence that the use of committees in all types of organizations continues to increase. The increase is linked not only to the democratic tradition in American social life but also to a growing emphasis on group management and group participation in enterprise affairs. To enable committees to function effectively and to try to overcome some of the disadvantages of a committee system, managers will need to develop fresh approaches and to sharpen their skills.
Need for Well-Defined Authority and Scope
Unless a committee's authority is carefully spelled out, the members may not know whether they are responsible for a decision, a recommendation, or merely inconclusive deliberation from which the chairperson may gain some insights. The members should also know the exact scope of subjects the group is expected to consider. Inefficiency of committee action results when members wander from the subject or when the chairperson introduces subjects that are beyond the commit¬tee's scope.
Furthermore, with authority and scope clear, committee members are better able to gauge whether they are meeting their responsibilities to the organization. Some companies make extensive efforts to review committee work, dissolving or consolidating those whose work is no longer justified. Other companies have an evaluating committee that periodically analyzes committees in this way.
One of the important questions pertains to the optimal size of committees. The diagram below shows, the complexity of interrelationships greatly increases with the size of the group. If the group is too large, there may not be enough opportunities for adequate communication among its members. On the other hand, if the group consists of only three persons, there is the possibility that two may form a coalition against the third member. No precise conclusions can be drawn here. As a general rule, a committee should be large enough to promote deliberation and include the breadth of expertness required for its job but not as large as to waste time or foster indecision. This is thought by some to mean as large as five or six members but no larger than fifteen or sixteen. An analysis of small-group research indicates that the ideal committee size is five, when the five members possess adequate skills and knowledge to deal with problems facing the committee. It is obvious that the larger the group, the greater the difficulty in obtaining a &quot;sense of the meeting,&quot; and the more time necessary to allow everyone to contribute.
The true purposes of committees are often accomplished by complete staff preparation for scrutinizing the various facets of a problem and by limitation of the membership to individuals who can look at the problem as a whole rather than regard their membership as a means of protecting a narrow interest.
Diagram: Increased complexity of relationships through increase in group size
For a successful committee, the members must be suitably representative of the interests they are intended to serve, must possess the requisite authority, and must be able to perform well in a group. Not everyone has the temperament, verbal and analytical ability, and capacity for working with others to do these things.
Members should also have the capacity for reaching group decisions by integrating group thinking rather than by compromise or by conclusions forced by position or political strength. Committees are more likely to reach agreement without weak compromise or power politics if the members are friendly, known to one another, and mutually respectful of one another's positions and interests. This means that the participants should generally be on approximately the same organizational level and independent enough of one another not to fear reprisal. Where committees are used as the forum of the traditional dissenter or as the rostrum of the ambitious climber anxious to use his or her talents, waste of time may be the sole result. It is a rare and enjoyable committee that does not have the committee bore among its members.
Selecting Subject Matter
Committee work should be limited to subject matter that can be handled in group discussion. Certain kinds of subjects, therefore, lend themselves to committee action, while others do not. Other than jurisdictional questions, where the prestige and impersonal nature of group action are definitely superior, the best area for group action is strategy or policy formulation.
The way subjects are presented is also important. Proposals made before the committee should be sharply presented. Ideally, an agenda should be circulated to members well in advance of a meeting so that they may know what will be discussed. Even the cleverest and best-informed committee member can hardly be expected to have a considered opinion on important matters without some notice of what to expect.
Importance of the chairperson
The success of a committee will seldom be greater than the skill of the chairperson. A good chairperson can avoid many of the wastes and drawbacks of committees by planning the meeting, preparing the agenda, seeing that the results of research are available to the members ahead of time, arranging definite proposals for discussion or action, and conducting the meeting efficiently.
The chairperson sets the tone of the meeting—formal or informal, with the discussions casual or pointed. By anticipating objections and playing the devil's advocate, chairpersons may completely overcome many objections before they are raised. When the subject matter is especially open to contention, they may lead the discussion so that members are not forced into a position, at least until the subject has been fully discussed.
It usually falls to the chairperson to integrate committee deliberation. Integra¬tion of ideas, as contrasted with compromise, builds a point of view, often quite new, from the basic positions of the group. If the chairperson is weak or not fully familiar with the subject or the way individual members think, integration of ideas is unlikely to result. When leadership is assumed by a committee member, that member often becomes the de facto chairperson of the meeting.
The chairperson must also keep discussion from wandering. This often takes great skill, especially when a committee includes persons who enjoy the sound of their own voices or who lack ability to recognize essentials and to speak of them concisely. The chairperson must handle the meeting firmly without imposing personal opinions or thwarting freedom of discussion, and yet without yielding power.
Thus, chairpersons of committees must be chosen with great care. On their shoulders falls most of the responsibility for assuring that the committee acts effectively. Obviously, it is a great help if the members and subject matter have been well selected. Even a skilled chairperson can hardly make up for the deficiencies of a poorly constituted committee.
Circulating Minutes and Checking Conclusions
The use of a committee allows a group of people to participate in the discussion or solution of a problem and to be informed simultaneously concerning it. Yet individuals may walk away from meetings with varying interpretations as to what was accomplished. To avoid this, it is good to take careful minutes of the meeting, circulate them in draft for correction or modification, and then have the final copy approved by the committee. This procedure has the advantage of forcing commit¬tee members to agree or disagree with the results of the discussion and the further advantage of supplementing oral discussion with the written word.
Checking conclusions also provides for follow-up. If a committee makes a recommendation to a superior manager, it should be informed as to the action, if any, which is taken; if the recommendation is not followed, explanations are required in order to preserve committee morale and to educate its membership on management strategy. Even if a committee makes neither decision nor recommendation but merely explores ideas, some report to the membership is of value.
The committee must be worth its cost
In measuring the success of committee operation, one must continually question whether the committee's benefits are worth its cost. It may be difficult to count the benefits, especially in such intangible forms as morale, enhancement of status, teamwork, and training. But the committee can be justified only if the costs, often considerable, are definitely offset by tangible and intangible benefits.
OTHER GROUPS IN MANAGING
Although committees are of special importance as an organization device, they are really only one of many groups we find in organizations. In addition to committees we find teams, conferences, task forces, and negotiation sessions all involving group activities. Fremont A. Shull and Andre L. Delbecq describe the value of small-group concepts for management as follows:
The theoretical relevance of this body of knowledge is evidence from a number of standpoints, since the small group: (1) is an ubiquitous and inevitable element of complex social systems; (2) plays an important part in the development and elaboration of personality; (3) is a major factor in processes of socialization and control; (4) bears many resemblances—as a social system—to large-scale social systems; and (5) can be mobilized as a powerful motivational force.
A group may be defined as &quot;two or more people acting interdependently in a unified manner toward the achievement of common goals.&quot; A group is more than a collection of individuals; rather, through their interactions, new forces and new properties are created that need to be identified and studied in themselves. The goals may pertain to specific tasks, but it may also mean that the people share some common concerns, values, or ideology. Thus, group members are attracted to each other by some social bonds.
Characteristics of Groups
Groups in the organization—have a number of characteristics. First, group members share one or more common goals, such as the goals of a product group to develop, manufacture, and market a new product. A second characteristic of groups is that they normally require interaction and communication among members. It is impossible to coordinate the efforts of group members without communication. Third, members within a group assume roles. In a product group, for example, individuals are responsible for designing, producing, selling or distributing a product. Naturally, the roles are in some kind of relationship to each other in order to achieve the group task. Fourth, groups usually are as part of a larger group. The product group may belong to a product division which produces many products of a similar nature. Large groups may also consist of subgroups. Thus, within the product group may be a subgroup specializ¬ing exclusively in the selling of the product. Also, groups interface with other groups. Thus, product group A may cooperate with product group B in the distribution of their products. It is evident, then, that the systems point of view, which focuses on the interrelatedness of parts, is appropriate in understanding the functioning of groups.
Functions and Advantages of Groups
Groups have many functions. They are powerful in changing behavior, attitudes, and values, and in disciplining members. As noted, deviant members may be pressured to adhere to group norms. In addition, groups are used for decision making, negotiating, and bargaining. Thus, group members with diverse back¬grounds may bring different perspectives to the decision-making process. This does not mean, however, that group decisions are always better than individual decisions.
Groups are not only essential and beneficial for an enterprise; they also have advantages for individuals. Groups do provide social satisfaction for their mem¬bers, a feeling of belonging, and support for the needs of individuals. Another benefit of groups is that they promote communication. It may be the give-and-take in a formal meeting, or it can take the form of the grapevine, which is the informal communication through which group members become aware of &quot;what is really going on in the firm.&quot; Groups also provide security. Labor unions are sometimes formed precisely for this reason—to give job security to their members. Finally, groups provide opportunities for promoting self-esteem through recognition from, and acceptance by, peers.
Disadvantages of Groups
Certainly the disadvantages of committees mentioned above are relevant here. As pointed out in our discussion of committees, when a compromise can be reached only at the lowest common denominator or when decisions must be postponed, the use of groups may be costly in time and money. A chairperson or a strong member may use the group for selfish purposes rather than for the well-being of the enterprise. Responsibility may be divided so that no one feels accountable for a decision. Finally, a few members may tyrannize the group and inhibit its proper functioning. In other words, all the problems and dangers we found in committees are potentially present with groups.