Choir committees and how to handle them 2: when committees go bad

Listed on June 6, 2016 in Blogs!

Having a good committee can be a huge benefit to a choir.

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But having a bad committee can be horrid and even destructive. Here are some common problems and how to deal with them.

A democratically elected choir committee can be a wonderful thing, but it depends on who gets elected, how effective the committee member are and if they share the same vision as the choir as a whole.

things that can go wrong

Here are four things that can go wrong with committees.

  1. the bad apple – sometimes an apparently benign choir member turns ‘difficult’ when they get elected to the committee. They may be dictatorial or disruptive or make meetings long and complicated or simply be out of step with all the other committee members. You can seldom see this coming until the person gets elected!
  2. committee as dictator – things may be going smoothly but then a new committee is elected and tries to take over the choir. They start making unpopular decisions, try to take control of creative decisions and tell the choir leader how to lead the choir.
  3. lazy members – some people are desperate to get elected, but once there they don’t pull their weight. They may turn up to meetings but aren’t proactive and never volunteer for anything. Resentment gradually builds amongst those members who feel they’re doing all the work.
  4. too many cooks – it is said that if you want to stand for office, then you’re probably the wrong person for the job! Sometimes those people who stand for election are precisely the wrong people to be on the committee. They are ego-driven and power-hungry. Get enough of those type of people together and there will never be any cohesion or consensus.

ideas to help thing go right

  • get your constitution right – if you draft your constitution carefully you can often avoid many of the problems outlined above. For example, you can add a clause to say that a committee member can be voted off if a majority of other committee members vote against them or will lose their position if they don’t attend enough meetings. To keep relations good between choir leaders and committees, some constitutions allow choir leaders to attend meetings (but not to vote), but have the option of having part of the meeting without them.
  • have clear boundaries – make sure that the committee’s roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. This doesn’t have to be in your constitution (although it’s helpful if they are written down somewhere). Then if any disputes arise about the committee straying into areas that aren’t theirs (e.g. repertoire choice), you can point to the relevant clause. It helps committee members do their job better if they have clear guidelines.
  • head hunt – often there are choir members who you know would make excellent committee members. Maybe even a specific office, e.g. chair or treasurer. However, they may not think of coming forward or be a little reluctant at first. It’s a good idea to sound these people out before your AGM and persuade them to stand for election.
  • get the size right – if your constitution requires too few committee members (e.g. the minimum of chair, secretary and treasurer), then it’s possible that it might become dictatorial. Conversely, if you don’t limit numbers you can end up with huge, unwieldy committees that can never get anything done.
  • civic responsibility – it’s very easy for choir members to let the ‘usual suspects’ step forward when volunteers or committee members are needed. This means that the choir is only ever run by a small elite. The danger of this is that only one set of views are heard and that most members won’t feel any ownership of their choir. Try to instil a spirit of “don’t ask what your choir can do for you, but ask what you can do for your choir.” You can have a formal system whereby every choir member gets to be on the committee at some point, or just encourage every member to feel that they ought to contribute. It’s amazing how well this brings a group together.

Do let me know if you’ve had problems with committees and how you’ve overcome them. I’d love to hear from you!

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Chris Rowbury




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