Facilitating Effective Committees

By Parr, Gerald D.; Jones, E. Gordon et al. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Facilitating Effective Committees


Parr, Gerald D., Jones, E. Gordon, Bradley, Loretta J., Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Counselors often serve as members of committees at their schools or agencies, and their skills allow them to play a vital role in making committees successful. As committee chairs, counselors can play a direct in role in selecting members and in facilitating group processes that foster effective outcomes. Counselors can also influence the committee's climate, norms, and the effectiveness of committee membership. This article addresses the dimensions of effective committees and how counselors can use their skills to directly and indirectly influence a committee's processes and outcomes.

Facilitating Effective Committees

For better or worse, committees are central to the lives of those who work in schools or agencies. The counselor's role in facilitating effective committees has therefore become a topic of interest for today's counseling professional. Committees vary greatly in title and purpose, but regardless of a committee's title or its setting, a committee is a type of task group (ASGW, 2000). Other task groups include task forces, planning groups, discussion groups, learning groups, and community organization (ASGW, 1991). Sundstrom, DeMeuse, & Futrell (1990) classified committees as a type of work team that produces decisions, suggestions, proposals, and recommendations.

Although committees are common, few professionals are trained in group leadership or membership. Counselors, who typically take at least one course in small group work (ASGW, 2000), are an exception. Perhaps this explains why many can remember committee meetings that were so boring or unproductive that they furtively engaged in other tasks like checking e-mail on PDA's. Acknowledging this, Hirokawa, DeGooyer, and Valde (2000) cited these humorous sayings about committee ineffectiveness: "...a camel is a horse designed by a committee or any problem can be made insoluble if enough meetings are held to discuss it..." (p. 573). This article is an invitation for counselors to assume a leadership role directly, as a committee chair or indirectly, as a committee member, to make the time spent on committees productive, meaningful, and enjoyable.

Although the research and applied literature on counseling, psychotherapy groups, and teams abound, very little has been published about committees. Thus, this article will attempt to fill this void by identifying and applying to committee work the generic dimensions that appear to be characteristic of all productive small groups. In addition, the ways that counselors can intervene, either as an assigned committee chair or as a committee member, to facilitate favorable group dynamics and processes will be addressed.

Committee Dimensions

Leadership

The research on effective leadership has relevance for effective committee leadership. Stogdill's (1974) review of the research on the traits of effective leadership identified the following: possessing organizational skills, accepting responsibility for seeing tasks completed, exhibiting vigor and persistence in pursuing goals, being adventuresome, having originality in problem solving, being secure in personal identity, being able to cope with stress and to tolerate frustration, being able to influence others, and being able to maintain focus on the task at hand. Similarly, Hogan, Curphy, and Hogan (1994) identified five qualities of effective leaders: surgency, agreeableness, emotional stability, conscientiousness, and intellect. Fortunately, effective leaders need not possess high levels of all of these traits. What seems more important is that a leader shows strengths in more than one of these characteristics.

Recent research on leadership has focused on transformational versus transactional types of leadership (Avolio & Bass, 1990; Guastello, 1995). Effective transformational leaders are value-driven risk takers who strive to build trust and commitment while simultaneously focusing on ethical considerations. …

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