Are committees an invention of the devil?


4 June 1664

Please click on the date above for Pepys lengthy and sweeping summary of his business and his opinions of many people and situations.

After office I with Mr. Coventry by water to St. James’s and dined with him, and had excellent discourse from him. So to the Committee for Tangier all afternoon, where still the same confused doings, and my Lord Fitz-Harding now added to the Committee; which will signify much. It grieves me to see how brokenly things are ordered.

I try to avoid committees as much as I possibly can. There are certain systemic problems with such necessary processes. Everybody comes along with their own issues and furthermore  with their own differences to other people which are carefully hidden until a particular issue emerges.

Katharine Whitehorn, the writer and journalist, claims that “any committee that is of the slightest use is composed of people who are too busy to want to sit on it for a second longer than they have to”

I think all committee members should go on a social day out, a bonding event if you like, so that they can get to know their colleagues as human beings at a deeper level.

If we want to learn how to do things properly we need to draw examples from  when committees get it right; these are normally when everyone is united about the importance of an issue which rises above the everyday.

However, we can have the situation of dogs fighting over meat which is a very undignified way of saying that if financial resources are cut, which service or facility should be retained and which should be pared down. This is the most awful thing if committee members know people who will be adversely affected by cuts.

The next problem is the hidden agenda, members who have had inducements, social or financial, to throw an issue in a particular way irrespective of its merits because it will benefit some other party not in the room.

Another problem is lack of discipline, and the need to keep to a subject. Some chairmen do not know how to restrain people who go off the subject, or who ramble on endlessly. I think the rule of ‘one person one point’ is quite a good one but sometimes you just tell people to shut up.

Another one is one bombastic person dominating the rest and this is more difficult to resist without blood on the floor. The idea would be not to vote in such people at all but hey this is an imperfect world.

A further problem is lack of preparation. Participants have got so much on their minds, it takes some time to start to focus on the matter in hand and when the chairman asks for a yes or no the matters are still not installed in the minds of everybody  and so an erroneous decision can be made. I’m all for a pre-meeting meeting, 10 minutes or so when people can associate with each other and remember why they are present. New Agers would call it tuning in


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