Brand new theory: “The committee member life cycle”

by Viv on September 26, 2007

It is slightly tragic that I have spent much of my adult life on committees, from student societies to residents’ associations to industry bodies. As Athletic Union Chairman at the University of Bristol, I remember the extreme joy that was chairing/ sitting on 14 different committees. This experience has led to my new contribution to social science: “The committee member life cycle.”

I hope one day this will be seen as the naughty little brother of the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing model; no science, but possibly a useful metaphor to help understand the dynamics.

By “committee member” I mean someone who is elected or co-opted into a group that meets regularly, for nominal or no financial reward. There are 4 stages:

1. Feeling the kudos. You feel flattered to have been chosen. You also have the ego boost of being able to bandy about your new title to the world.
2. Consolidating power. You set about changing whatever thing it was that attracted you to accepting the role in the first place. You sell your vision to your colleagues and set about making a difference.
3. Disillusionment. There are few forces as powerful as inertia. Having changed what you can, you get frustrated by what you can’t change. Possibly other committee members manage to claim credit for your efforts.
4.Abandonment. You realise that the time, money and emotional cost outweighs the benefits of being on the committee. You gather your energy to make one last legacy and then you resign. With any luck you find another hapless soul to give their pound of flesh to the cause.

Does this ring true for you? Or am I just having a bad day? I plan to talk through how committees can be run more successfully another time. But for now let me know what you think.

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