Anyone in the professional game, public or private, has had an experience participating on a committee that can be remembered as a positive experience and successful versus a dysfunctional, drawn out and in a sense less satisfying but a successful outcome. In speaking with several senior managers of private business and local government with strong leadership abilities (i.e., vibrant, open to discussion, good listeners, interested in you as an individual, shares decision-making or willing to delegate, expects mistakes that you learn from, can admit their own mistakes, shares the lime light), it was agreed that the unwritten rule was a committee of five max. Why? The issues they listed were these: If you have more than that, people tend to think they don’t need to always come, therefore they aren’t fully committed to the topic or project, not every meeting has the same attendees therefore you are always bringing attendees up to speed on past meetings, tasks are generally done with a small focus group or individual so you can have attendees without tasks and again, not bought into the project, and therefore, successful outcomes can take longer to achieve and the schedule can slide. Whereas, from their experience, the “magic five” tend to include committed individuals, know they need to attend or effective discussion and idea generation can slip, easier to assign tasks and drive follow through on those tasks, and you don’t get endless opinion and what-ifs. It’s also easier to invite subject matter experts into the committee for a conversation as needed therefore getting a focused discussion to answer a specific need.
In local government where transparency is expected, keeping the committee small allows you to control the information that gets out and rely on an assigned point of contact to control the discussion outside of the committee. In the private sector, transparency isn’t the concern but the efficient use of talent is. This also allows management to right size the topic of interest so that the committee completes work that can then be used in conjunction with another committees work, to seed a subsequent committee assignment, or for a larger general discussion.