JACR: How committees can transform chaos into strategy

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Effective committees in a healthcare organization need to have a clear purpose, a strong committee chair, thoughtfully appointed members and well-run meetings, according to Jannette Collins, MD, of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, who published an article on effective committees for the March issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

For each of the four overarching key elements of quality committees, Collins laid out a number of take-home points:

Committee Purpose: The scope, purpose and authority of a committee should be well-defined, according to Collins. Specific tasks and responsibilities should be clear, and there should also be an understanding of whom the committee is reporting to and the type of reporting that is required.

“Many organizations have too many committees, often with unclear responsibilities,” warned Collins.

Committee Chair: Collins advised that a committee chair doesn’t necessarily need to be a technical expert, and that it is more important that the person is a good motivator and organizer who works well with others. “Although it is important that the chair have content knowledge and experience relevant to the work of a committee, it is more important that the chair have proven leadership and people skills that are essential if the committee is to work effectively,” she wrote. “The chair should be more interested in a committee's success than in his or her own feelings of personal importance.”

The committee chair should be responsible for preparing and presenting reports, setting agendas, calling meetings and ensuring that all members can contribute.

Committee Members: Membership should include all important constituents from the organization relevant to the task at hand. Collins said that some committee chairs will purposely select members with opposing views to provide a broader view of the issues. Administrators also can learn a great deal about staff through their work on a committee.

“Committee appointments can be used to learn more about an individual's commitment to the organization and to observe that person's skills and personality traits. It can be a valuable tool for developing and testing new leadership, while cultivating a deeper level of commitment to an organization,” wrote Collins.

Committee Meetings: Dates should be set well in advance and reminders should be used to ensure high attendance. Collins recommends that committee chairs communicate with members individually, especially on controversial topics, to get a sense of conflicts and help the meeting run more efficiently.

“Discussions can become heated and personal, which can stifle objectivity and open thinking. Or the scope of the charge might be too complex for a committee to tackle without having a template to use as a springboard for discussion. When the chair presents a plan after informal discussions with key committee members before a meeting, it helps narrow the committee's focus of discussion.”

Effective meetings start and end on time, have an agenda that is distributed to members beforehand and have accurately kept minutes, according to Collins.