Six Steps to Building a Better Committee in the NICU

By Sue Ludwig

A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.”
~Milton Berle

This quote is a bit sarcastic. (As is my sense of humor.) And more than a little true.
You know this. You’ve been on committees that become powerful organization-changing entities and committees that were a complete waste of everyone’s time. Simply stated, there are 2 types – the type in which work is actually completed and things move forward (ACTION-oriented) or the type in which members gather, talk over top each other for 60 minutes, no decisions are made, and no action is taken (discussion-oriented).
NANT Members often ask for guidance regarding the best way to form and run a committee. My hope is that you can take away at least 1 new idea from this brief list and improve your committees now:

1- Determine the purpose:
Why are you building this committee and what purpose (and population) will it serve?

2- Assemble the team:
Pre-decide an ideal number of committee members. This is important. You don’t want 3 people to decide how to launch a shuttle into space and you don’t need 30 people to start a developmental care committee.

  • Consider the goal(s) of the committee you wish to form.
  • Write a list of ‘tasks’ or actions this group will need to take on even if you’re just brainstorming at first.
  • Start with a smaller number than you think you will need. (Bigger is not always better.)
  • Grow when it becomes apparent that the current group can no longer manage the actions required to achieve the committee’s goals.
  • And yes, multidisciplinary. We work in the NICU – nothing happens in a vacuum.

3- Choose a leader (or leaders):
Sometimes you avoid this part. You don’t want to appear power-hungry or ego-driven so you shy away from stepping up as a leader. Or the committee members want to run things ‘as a group’ which is great in theory and very difficult in reality. Your committee will likely work best (and there are exceptions) when someone is responsible for planning, follow through, and vision. Even simple things such as, “Hmmm…so who is going to send out all the reminders for the meetings, who is going to take and distribute minutes, who is going to manage the priorities?” requires leadership. Step up as a leader or enthusiastically choose someone else within your team then support them.

Life-choice note: If you are someone who tends to sign up as #theleaderofeverything, take a moment before jumping in to yet another leadership role. Consider that every one of these choices influences how you spend every day and week of your precious life. Choose to love what you’ve decided to do with your time versus dreading it. Being part of something and NOT leading it can be refreshing and you’ll learn cool new stuff from other leaders.

4- Set a schedule (for real!)
As a group, decide the best day and time for meetings. If you bend over backwards to make sure 100% of the group can attend, you’ll find yourself cancelling meetings far too frequently. It’s better to hold a consistent meeting with varied attendance than expect the group to remember when to show up at an inconsistent time.

Don’t be afraid to cancel a meeting if there’s nothing to meet about. Rule #1 is don’t waste anyone’s time. (Yours included!)

5- Run an efficient meeting
This is a whole separate topic. For today, simply consider that there’s a difference between a committee meeting and a work-group. Committee meetings rarely need to exceed 30 minutes. Working on a project is different than this type of meeting. Delineate between the two.

6- Leave with action steps
Decide the committee’s next 1-3 steps then ask members to address those steps before the next meeting. The steps can be small and achievable. Forward progress rarely happens in leaps and bounds. Set realistic expectations then celebrate like mad when they’re accomplished!

Here’s the thing: many of the committees we’ve been part of at the hospital (or in academia) are not organized in this way. They tend to be less focused, less action oriented, and potentially more emotionally dramatic. It simply doesn’t have to be that way. When building your committee, or any team, use these simple steps as a quick guide.

Build something that your colleagues can’t wait to be part of – build something that matters.

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