Churches and other Christian organizations are very dependent on the work of committees--much to the chagrin of harried pastors and administrators! Although working with committees sometimes makes us feel like we’re Jacob wrestling with the angel, committee work can be both satisfying and productive--but only if we have some insight into what makes committees tick. Understanding how people tend to work together on committees is half the battle in getting them to be productive.

Test your committee IQ with the following true or false questions.

(Answer each question with true or false)

How did you do? The odd-numbered questions are all true and the even-numbered are false. Let’s delve into the fundamental realities of group dynamics reflected in the 10 questions.


Committees have a strong tendency--practically a built-in gyroscope--to operate by consensus based on the shared perceptions, experiences, and biases of the members. Even so, committee leaders are commonly reluctant to utilize participative management techniques (brainstorming, delegation, agenda-sharing, etc) in committee deliberations because these tend to slow down the group’s momentum and complicate consensus-formation.

Committee members often end up with a less-than-accurate perception of reality during deliberations because then tend to accept comments made by members at face value. In reality, committee-generated information is often incomplete, subjective, and sloppily researched.

Committee deliberations are apt to proceed efficiently and with apparent progress because they focus more on short-term means (parliamentary procedure, recording minutes, keeping rules and precedent) than on long-run ends (purpose, mission, contributions made). This can lull members into a false sense of security and accomplishment: "We met, therefore, we’re a success."

This tendency to confuse bureaucratic busyness with effectiveness is further aggravated by the reality that the goals and operating plans of most committees are stated in such a fuzzy way that true committee success, over time, can’t be meaningfully measured.

Aggressive committee leaders love to build momentum by barreling through the agenda, pressing for votes, convening subcommittees, and ending meetings no more than a minute overtime. Despite the many advantages of keeping things rolling, these steamroller tactics can backfire. Members may feel reluctant to speak out for fear of bogging things down; they will probably feel railroaded; important details may be glossed over. Fast work isn’t necessarily a virtue with committees.

Committees are apt to display poor timing in their activities, sometimes moving prematurely (before conditions in the organization are fertile for progress), other times procrastinating. This stems from the tendency of committees to work in isolation of the organization and to emphasize means over ends.

Another important reality about group dynamics concerns the pivotal role of informal leaders--people who are influential because of their popularity, competence, or seniority. Committee members are often subconsciously swayed by informal leaders because decisions influenced by them generally turn out to be popular ones.


Committees have a number of built-in unproductive tendencies that must be counteracted. The process is akin to driving a car: careful steering and regulating speed to get where you want to go. Let’s explore 10 pragmatic strategies for managing committees productively:

Committee leaders must define themselves as producers, not bureaucrats. While bureaucrats preside, producers lead; while bureaucrats follow precedent, producers make precedent; while bureaucrats focus on means, producers focus on ends. Clearly there is a fundamental difference between a committee and a team: committees meet; teams produce!