In Edumacation


It’s the New Year… so during January we’re going to highlight one resolution per week that you can set for your organization.

New Years Business Resolution #1 

Everyone wants their organization to be healthy, lean and agile. But there are a few places in organizations where plaque can accumulate. One of those is the ineffective working group.

As organizations trying to achieve, well, anything, we have developed some lazy tendencies in creating and evolving our working groups.

In some ways, we have taken to committees, advisory councils, research panels and task forces like diet pills, with their ‘before’ scenarios and ‘after’ promises. Many start out with the best of intentions, but lack the fundamental tools required to reach their goals. So they lose momentum, get frustrated and eventually fall into the new routine of the monthly meeting where they meet, greet and update on individual progress. This is when money, time, creativity and passion park on the couch with a bag of chips.

Robert Waterman says “organizations exist for only one purpose: to help people reach ends together that they couldn’t achieve individually.”

So there’s a clue of where to begin – this year, let’s create working groups only for tasks that cannot be accomplished by an individual, an individual department or an individual organization, on their own.

This is not a recommendation for a return to silos – but there are working groups formed for some pretty weak reasons, such as:

1. seeking input from different perspectives

2. gathering information about a situation

3. creating the optics of teamwork and collaboration

4. creating actual teamwork and collaboration

5. covering each others’ posteriors (aka collective accountability)

6. making tough decisions (see #5)

7. setting budgets

8. setting strategic directions

These might be functions or tools of a working group toward a greater end, but they are not reasons to establish a working group. Most of these things can be accomplished in more effective ways by individuals (except #3); through surveys, workshops, research, communication or effective leadership.

So here’s a quick list of the attributes of a healthy working group:

1. You know and can articulate clearly what you will achieve (and it’s not a report to another working group).

2. You have the expertise available to conduct a reasonable risk assessment.

3. You have the political capacity to respond to that risk assessment and make some fundamental go / no-go decisions.

4. You have the ability to put, and keep, only people on the group who are actually there to achieve your clearly articulated outcomes.

5. You have a tightly defined decision-making process that:

– seeks a reasonable amount of input,

– involves the smallest number of individuals you can get away with,

– doesn’t revolve around monthly meetings.

6. Your group is reasonably resourced (real admin, IT supports and the capacity to get the information and evidence required; and people being paid to do the working group work – unless they are actually self-designated volunteers).

7. Your project is credibly resourced. (If it’s not, you have a finite timeframe to confirm funding, or disband the working group.)

8. You have a criteria of what you will do, or not do; cut, or not cut; to get funding (see #3).

9. You have generally accepted controls over spending and resource use.

10. You have designated leads with resources, responsibility and accountability in their area of expertise and very limited overlap.

11. You have relevant progress milestones that you measure and report against (but you don’t do progress reports at meetings).

12. Your group arrives having read the previously-submitted progress reports – and you spend your precious meeting time identifying risks and obstacles and working through their mitigation.

13. You are working your communication plan.

14. You have a defined end point.

No group is perfect, but it takes planning and professional courage to create or evolve into a group that can say yes to at least 10 of the 14 items here; or to dissolve a group that can’t, or won’t.

We can redirect scarce time, creative energy and money to better outcomes, if we harness the power to disband or restructure ineffective, irrelevant, or entirely unaccountable working groups.

The Added Bonus:

Your organization will feel lighter and more agile; and the frustrated people who sit on these groups, who individually are highly effective, relevant, competent and accountable, will be very thankful to have been set free.


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