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Tips on Building Boards, Committees, and Creative Teams

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Tips on Building Boards, Committees, and Creative Teams

September 2012

by Kimberly A. Edwards


Committees, advisory boards, ad hoc groups, and project teams can all help solve problems and achieve goals. Discussion draws on the knowledge, experience, and skills of various contributors. Multiple perspectives fuel synergy. But collaboration requires attention. While products ripen richly in the hands of a squad, one person must hold the reins.

Those are some of the conclusions I’ve come to after working with boards, committees, and teams for many years, both in the writing-publishing arena and in connection with my career at the California Department of Education.

The ingredients of effective partnerships include:

● a shared vision

● trust and respect

● a mix of talent, expertise, and outlooks

● regard for empowerment and motivation

● defined roles emphasizing complementary contributions

● a timeframe for review and renewal of the partnership

The tips that follow have emerged from my experience.


Steps for Sowing an Effective Partnership

● Put the team together carefully. A balance of skills, viewpoints, specializations, and big-picture and detail thinkers can serve well. Avoid dominance by any one point of view while ensuring that stakeholders are represented.

● Orient partners to the purpose and to ground rules. For example, if the group is expected to offer suggestions and you will make the final call, make that clear at the outset. Identify what decisions will be outside the group’s control.

● Provide background information as necessary to equalize members’ knowledge base and to seed a shared foundation.

● Emphasize teamwork and trust. Talk about individual behaviors that enhance trust—respecting all viewpoints and contributing to a climate of courtesy.

● Discuss consensus as a goal that doesn’t require everyone to be 100 percent in agreement with an idea, but 100 percent “on board” following full discussion—all stances aired, pros and cons brainstormed.

● Address potential conflicts of interest stemming from business relationships or friendships. These should be openly discussed at the beginning, as perception can be worse than fact.

● Define and regularly revisit vision, roles, and relationships. Problems that develop can often be solved or ameliorated by group review.

● Set up systems to support the partnership. What steps can be taken to respond to requests and schedule meetings so that they are convenient for everyone?

● Empower partners by knowing what drives them. Some people are motivated by causes and others by artistic devotion, status, money, access, or loyalty to a brand. People will contribute generously if their motives are satisfied. A “nourished” partner will stay committed.


The Leader’s Ongoing Role

Partnerships need focus and continued clarity about purpose, roles, and progress. I start with a group orientation and review principles. Teamwork matures with time and predictability,

Here are some additional guidelines that have helped me lead boards and other groups through fruitful meetings and long-term tasks:

● Maintain clear roles and responsibilities. Cultivate ownership while setting boundaries. Encourage individuals to feel pride without possessiveness of the ultimate product.

● Aim for a collaborative community. This does not mean accepting all ideas. Members must know that they are equal cogs, not competitors, in the group wheel.

● Decode organizational jargon that some partners may not comprehend. Vocabulary shared among some but not all creates an insider-outsider dynamic.

● Manage advocacy. Be clear that lobbying or personal agendas must be left at the door. I include this principle in an orientation where we discuss the mission and “How We Work Together.”

● Address discretion and restraint. Discussions are “owned” by the group, not the individual, and each member is responsible for not repeating discussions out of context to others.

● Track the trust thermometer. Candid dialogue requires a safe climate for candid interaction. Examine history and customary practice to identify hot spots that can undermine trust.

● Be vigilant about behaviors that potentially undermine teamwork. Watch for discussion monopolizing, unbending individual beliefs, and negative body language, including texting when others are speaking. When toxic behavior begins, step in immediately by revisiting basic agreements as a group.

● Make time for each member—even if only a moment. Give undivided attention, even for a minute, outside group meetings—a small investment for a potentially big reward.

● Respect individuals’ realities. Setting up a conference call for a member’s weekly crunch time can lead to strife.

● Maintain stability. Through budget cuts, intervening priorities, or changes in the membership of a group, avoid distractions that will raise concerns or be perceived as politics.

● Avoid surprises. Broach changes, even tweaks, as suggestions so the group can arrive at shared insights and decisions.

The broadest tip I have to offer may be the most important. As the group transforms from a collection of individuals, the leader assumes a role over the united view. The “I” and the “my” are banished in favor of the “we” issues and “we” outcomes.


Kimberly A. Edwards writes regularly on publishing, travel, and cultural trends. A member of Northern California Publishers and Authors, she also serves on the board of the California Writers Club, Sacramento Branch. To reach her, email kimberlyedwards00@comcast.net.


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