Key elements of an effective committee

Further information

  • Preparing and running a meeting
  • Samples

An effective committee is not a matter of chance. It is the result of good practice in each one of the key elements which contribute to the committee's operations.

An effective committee is an interdependent team, comprising chair, members and executive officer, which has a clear role and keeps a critical eye on its own performance.

  1. Clear constitution / Terms of reference
  2. The effective chair
  3. The effective committee member
  4. The effective executive officer
  5. Regular rerview

Clear constitution / Terms of reference

Principle 8 requires that "each committee has a constitution which sets out function, reporting lines, membership, Chair, quorum and frequency of meetings." The principle recognises, among other things, that effective committees know precisely what they are expected, and authorised, to do. Their constitutions or terms of reference clarify and precisely delineate their roles.

The constitution or the terms of reference of a committee is/are the foundation for its activities. Whenever a committee is established or reviewed, very careful thought should be given to what the role of the committee will be/is, and what membership would best meet the needs of that role. Established committees may need to revise their role or membership from time to time to take account of changes in the environment in which they operate.

The effective chair

The Introduction to the Guide makes clear the continued importance of the committee system in University decision-making as well as the increasing complexity of the issues about which decisions must be made. In these circumstances, it is vital that University committees are effectively chaired.

The Chair's skills and commitment are critically important factors in determining whether or not a meeting serves a useful purpose.

The effective committee member

We have already seen that membership of committees at UWA is a key means of maintaining a participative culture which draws on the views of a wide range of staff. In these circumstances, it is very important that those staff involved in committee work contribute effectively to their committees.

Committee members who take the time to understand the issues, and who are prepared to make considered contributions to debate can have a significant impact within the University.

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The effective executive officer

The Executive Officer is a key member of the team which makes a committee effective.

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Regular review

Principle 7 requires that "the Senate/Academic Board/Schools monitor and regularly review their own performance and that of their committee and committee structure." While formal review of committee performance is a requirement only for these committees, regular review of some kind is an excellent idea for all standing or permanent committees (such as staff meetings).

At the very least, every standing committee should consider having an item at its last meeting each year in which the Chair invites members to identify any impediments to the committee's effectivenss and to offer/discuss any suggestions for improvement.

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