29. Assessing the committee's performance

How does a committee look at itself?

There is a whole continuum of reflection (and development) that a committee can undertake, depending on time and resources available. At its very simplest level it might involve doing some very basic things such as taking 5 minutes at the end of a meeting to find out what the committee thought about the meeting; was there enough time to debate the issues? Was there enough information to base the decisions on? Could the information be better presented? Would some committee members like a chance to talk with someone about the agenda before the meeting?

How do we assess how well we are doing?

There are a whole range of quizzes and questionnaires (‘assessment tools’) that a committee can use. However, they tend to have a number of weaknesses;
They often focus on one aspect of governance. For instance they may focus on the committee structure and so will ask questions such as, ‘do you have a constitution? Etc
They are often very subjective. For instance you may get a questions such as ‘are all the committee members familiar with the mission of the organisation?’
They are often either excessively long (80+ questions) or so brief and subjective as to be almost worthless.
This is an extensive topic and merits its own chapter.

For samples of governance assessment questionnaires click here.

What approaches can we take to strengthen governance?

First read the previous item. Once you have tried some method of assessing how you are doing will you have an indication of what aspects need strengthening.
One popular and effective approach is to set aside some time together to look in more depth at a topic than a meeting allows. Generally termed an ‘away day’ in the UK (or ‘retreat’ in US literature).

It can be very helpful for the whole committee to spend a day together every year or so. Common themes for such days are; reviewing your past performance and looking to the future; considering in detail a particularly difficult problem or decision; clarifying matters. Whole books have been written on organising and running away days; thought must be given to timing, venue, equipment, refreshments and most importantly a good agenda.

What should we look at on an away day?

Here are three ideas that deal with common committee scenarios.

Awayday 1. If many people are involved on the committee and all take different roles then one option is to cover a wall with paper and get everyone to draw an organisation chart with everyone and their roles and the connections between them.

Awayday 2. If there is basic agreement about the core activities then it can be useful to go through the activities one at a time looking at them from the perspective of the past, the present and the future. Future plans can them be tested against resources, people, money, time etc.

Awayday 3. For committees who lack consensus it can be useful to spend time setting priorities to gain some consensus on the organisations priorities and direction. Sometimes it can be helpful to spend time exploring underlying assumptions and values in order to better inform these decisions.

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A Word About Words

This site is aimed at those who govern (control) small organisations - whether they are charities, companies, both or neither. Those who govern them may be called a variety of names. We have chosen to use mainly 'management committee' and occasionally 'committee member' or 'trustee'. more...
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