This week we trained a labor-management committee that recently had been reformed. Changes in the leadership of both sides lead the group to seek assistance in getting off to a good start.
A frequently asked question came up during the training:
“How many people are too many (or too few) on a committee?”
It is really a good question. The person that asked wanted to be certain the number of people on the committee would not inhibit the ability of the group to make decisions. Our answer to them was very definite: “It depends”.
A lot has been written about the ideal number of people that should be on a committee. While their answers vary, they generally aim for smaller numbers (4-7 members). While that size may be easier to manage, it may not produce the best results.
The best committee with which we worked was able to work together and resolve difficult problems, even receiving national recognition for their efforts. It was also one of the larger committees we have been with, having over 20 members.
We have also worked with smaller groups, generally comprised of good people, who were unable to function effectively together.
What made the difference between the ability of the teams to work together? It was not the number of people on the committee, it was the commitment of each member to work together to identify and resolve problems. That commitment is far more significant than the size of the group.
The ideal size of a team, including labor-management committees, depends on a number of factors, including:
Representation – Everyone in the organization who may be impacted should be represented on the committee. Depending on their structure, every department or area should be included. If not, how will their employees be able to communicate their concerns or have input into the decisions?
In organizations with multiple shifts, each should be represented. This includes 24/7 operations, with all groups considered. We have worked with large employers where third-shift employees felt they were on their own. They had limited knowledge of what was happening in the facility beyond what they heard from the rumor mill.
Decisions that seem very logical on first shift may not be workable on others. Differences in the availability of support staff, managers, or union representation can create unique problems on weekends or nights. Committees need to understand these differences and the impact of their decisions. This is best accomplished if they are represented on the team.
The scope of the problem will also determine team size. A team dealing with an issue that only impacts one department may be smaller than if the issue affected multiple parts of the operation. Having too few people can also limit the diversity of ideas from the team.
Membership– As we stated before, effective teams are composed of people who have a commitment to problem-solving. This means they come together to attack problem, not each other, and are creative in seeking solutions. Realistically, not everyone can do that. Some people are stuck in the old, adversarial labor-management paradigms. These individuals will find it hard to function in a cooperative environment. Be sure to seek and consider their input, but they are probably not the ideal people to have on the team.
Members must also realize commitment starts with them, not with someone else changing. The only person for whom you can make a comittment is you.
Training – It takes the right tools to do any job properly, and teams are no exception. Teams require training in group process, team building, problem solving tools, problem analysis, goal setting, communications, and other skills to be effective.
Decision-Making Authority – Members of the team must have the authority to make decisions about the issues being considered or be in direct communications with the people who do. This applies to both sides of labor-management committees.
Have you ever been on a committee where the answer to questions was, “We’ll get back to you on that”? Often, they never do as it’s simply an attempt to stall. The parties must follow through on securing decisions if those with authority are not at the table.
The answer of how many people should be on a committee is not as simple as a number. It depends on the representation of the team and the commitment of the members to solving problems. Our best committees have been large, but so have some of our most dysfunctional. That problem was not caused by size but by a lack of support and (here’s that word again) commitment.
If you would like help with formulating or supporting a committee or team of any type, CALMC can help. Check our website and let us know how we can help.