New committee? Start here

I recently attended a meeting of a new volunteer committee and was reminded of why it is so important to start off a new group with a terms of reference.  A terms of reference is a great way for group members to gel with a shared understanding of how the committee will operate.  It is also useful for managing high conflict personalities, if you have those in your group (read more about them at http://highconflictinstitute.com/).  For our group, a terms of reference would likely have prevented some initial spats about who creates the agenda, how minutes are distributed, etc.

So, what should be included in a terms of reference?  Here are some key components:

  1. Purpose and mandate
    • What is the purpose and scope of the committee?
    • Does this committee pass binding motions, make recommendations, give advice?
  2. Membership
    • How many members?
    • Are there different types of members (for example, representing different groups)? Is there a minimum number required from each group?
    • How are members chosen, appointed or elected?
    • What are the roles of the committee members? How are they selected?
    • Do members serve indefinitely or for a limited term?
  3. Reporting
    • Does the committee report to an individual, a larger committee, a group of members?
    • How often does the committee report to this body?
    • Does this other body direct the committee? If so, how?
  4. Meeting procedures
    • How often will the group meet?
    • Who sets the agenda?
    • Who chairs the meeting?
    • Will the committee use Roberts Rules of Order or a less formal way of making decisions?
    • Who records the minutes/notes?
    • Who approves the minutes/notes before they are distributed outside of the committee?
    • Who else receives the minutes?
  5. Communications
    • Are meeting discussions confidential?
    • Who is authorized to speak for the group?
  6. Budget
    • Does the committee have a budget?
    • If so, how are spending decisions made?

Not all of the items listed above will be relevant for your committee, but even a small, informal group can benefit from discussing these items when first formed.  Such discussions clarify assumptions, manage expectations, and provide some common ground from which to work.  I have been on many a committee where it later became clear that a terms of reference could have saved time and minimized disagreements.

 

 

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