Running a committee, part three: recruitment and problem solving

The majority of our member groups are run by a committee - a group of enthusiastic people who care about their group and are willing to take responsibility for running it. Even if you don’t have something formally called ‘a committee’ it is likely that you have a group of people who work together to run your group and so the overarching themes in this resource will still be relevant.  Similarly whilst the resource refers to constitutions and charities, if your group is not a charity or does not have a constitution the main themes are still applicable.

This is part three of our resource on committees and will look at Recruitment and problem solving. Part one sets out the roles and responsibilities of a committee and part two looks at meetings, communication and ways of working.

Recruitment and retention

The best committees have a mix of different skills and abilities – and a common enthusiasm for the aims of the organisation. Adding new blood to the committee brings new ideas and prevents the group from stagnating. You could consider time-limited committee positions, to ensure that the committee continues to change and evolve.

Often it can be hard to recruit new members to the committee. Members of your group may be worried about the amount of time they’ll need to commit, the responsibilities and liabilities placed on them, and the amount of work they’ll need to put in.

It is important to be clear and address these issues (for charities; you can find guidance about the responsibilities and liabilities of a trustee in our Trustees' handbook) but also remember there are many great things about being on a committee too. Form the sense of satisfaction you get from running a successful music group that gives people the chance to make music to the more tangible CV benefits and career and skill development. As a committee member you are best placed to talk about why you like it and what you get out of it – so why not tell people how rewarding it can be?  That said, worries do sometimes need to be alleviated. Some things to think about are: 

  • Having clear role descriptions and making these available to your members
  • Considering allowing a role to be shared between 2 or more people
  • Creating a ‘handover period’ for each role and allowing plenty of time for this to happen
  • An open and welcoming committee culture and good communication with the group can really help recruitment - if you are perceived as a clique, members may be hesitant about joining. 

The personal approach is the best way to recruit new members. Talking to individuals in a non-pressurised way during rehearsal breaks will help you to gauge who might be willing to join, who might be persuaded, and who is not interested. Encouraging members to discuss their ideas with you in this informal way can lead to them getting involved before they know it – and can also give you a vital opportunity to reassure them about the level of commitment needed, or to think of a solution to any other barriers that are stopping them from stepping up before the election comes along.

If there are no immediately obvious volunteers for the committee in your group, you might consider seeking outside help or recruiting externally:

  • Grow your own – provide training or skills exchanges for your members to help them learn
  • Ask amongst your friends and followers, someone might be willing to lend a hand
  • Recruit through specialist agencies and/or volunteer centres to fill gaps
  • Use recognised dates in the calendar for promotional activities e.g. Volunteers’ Week
  • Organise your own promotional activity

Finally, ensure that the contributions of your committee members are recognised and acknowledged.

  • Organise celebration events for your committee
  • Offer peer-to-peer support – liaise with another local group or attend a Making Music event
  • Mark their commitment with a special recognition
  • Nominate them for an external award

Succession planning for officer roles: as well as getting new committee members it can also be tricky getting people to take over the key roles (Chair, Treasurer etc.). Many of the same principles of being clear about what is involved apply. You should have time to plan for role succession too. Encourage officers to give as much notice as possible - If you know a treasurer will be resigning in a year it gives you time to find an existing committee member to take over – they could shadow the treasurer or be appointed assistant treasurer for 6 months to help with the transition.

What can go wrong – and how to put it right

Nothing is perfect all of the time – and even with the best will in the world, things will go wrong occasionally. At committee level, the most common causes of problems are:

  • Poor communication – either lack of information, or confusing or unclear information
  • Information bottleneck – information is not disseminated widely or in a timely fashion
  • Poor decision making
  • Dissent between committee members
  • Different priorities – no shared vision

In most cases, you should be able to resolve issues before they become too complicated, simply by identifying the issue and reviewing your procedures. These types of reviews should always be approached from the point of view of the best interests of the group and strong, even-handed leadership is important. Some of the areas you may wish to consider include:

  • Review your role descriptions, re-assess and agree levels of responsibility – follow up on these and make sure old habits are not re-established.
  • Revisit your meeting structure and timetable. Do you meet often enough to cover everything you need to, are your agendas focused and clear?
  • Establish clearer levels of communication – both within the committee and to the wider membership. Think about new ways of communicating too, including in-person notices, emails, and using online group tools such as Google groups, doodle polls and more.

Sometimes a more in-depth review may be needed to get your committee back on track. Examine all of your policies and procedures thoroughly, identify the weaknesses and what needs to be done to correct them.

  • Reaffirm commitment of committee members – people may want to move on or leave.
  • Establish a short term workable group plan with clear action points and levels of responsibility to get you back on track.
  • Establish a new long term plan in tandem with the short term plan, to re-focus the committee’s direction and goals.

One of the most common issues our member groups experience is when a committee falls into a situation where one or two people do all the work. Generally there are two reasons for this happening:

  1. A natural progression; it is easy to fall into this sort of situation, in the real world it is often the most practical way of getting things done – perhaps one person on the committee has more time and experience and so things keep falling to them
  2. One dominant voice; sometimes there can be an overbearing and forceful member who does not listen to other opinions or allow people speak at meetings or generally get involved.

Whilst it is easy to see how it happens, and can sometimes feel like it is working ok, it is not generally sustainable. What happens if the people doing the work can no longer do it or decide they don’t want? If a situation like this does develop it is important to:

  • make sure that they are not acting and taking decisions entirely alone. The committee should still be aware of what is going on and have a say – at the end of the day, you are all responsible for any decisions made.
  • take steps to try and change the situation; delegate more tasks – having established role descriptions can be really useful for this. See if a sub-committee could be set up to take on some of the work, encourage the less active committee members to shadow and assist the ones that do all the work, consider whether it is worth expanding the committee to take on some more willing pairs of hands.

These types of situations can be political; the person doing all the work may be happy doing it – but that does not mean it is best for the group, succession planning or managing risk. It is often best to nip the situation in the bud; it does not have to be personal and it should always be approached from the point of view of the best interests of the group.

If after all this a committee problem continues then external help is worth thinking about. Independent mediation and a fresh pair of eyes can often be invaluable in helping to resolve more serious committee issues. Ideally a mediator should have no connection whatsoever to anyone on the committee, either personal or professional. This means you will need to look further afield to find external help. Your local Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) or the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) are good organisations to approach for help finding a suitable mediator.

To end on a positive note; whilst it is inevitable that sometimes problems crop up on committees in our experience they are almost always resolved amicably. It is worth remembering that all committee members give up their time and have the same basic interest of helping your music group to thrive. If you approach any problem from the point of view of what is in the best interest of the group, remember that we all work in different ways, and rely on your documentation (constitution, job roles etc.) then you should be able to overcome any problem. 

Part 1: responsibilities and roles

Part 2: communication and ways of working

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.