‘A meeting is an event when minutes are taken and hours are wasted’
What words or phrases first spring to mind when you hear the word committee? Ineffective? Waste of time? Politics? Hidden agendas? And what are the chances of them ever being the reverse of this?: Effective? Productive,? Apolitical? With a shared agenda? Well in my experience, slim, however, I’m pleased to say that I do have experience of one committee that in the past 7 years has regularly succeeded to be all of the above: that of of the British Business Schools Librarians Group (BBSLG). Now as some of you may know I’m currently Chair of this Group (and have been for the past three years) but this blog post is not an attempt to blow smoke up my own ****, but rather an examination of why this might be.
BBSLG, as its website accurately declares, exists as a forum for the discussion and exchange of ideas and to facilitate networking opportunities, co-operation and participation in joint activities. Its members are business librarians at institutions across the UK and Ireland. Its committee is tasked with promoting these objectives, ensuring that connections and communication continues to occur. It also meets in order to organise an annual conference (usually attended by 70 business librarians) and training events throughout the year, discuss the website and deals brokered with database vendors exclusively for the group, to construct and review surveys, and enagage in a myriad of other Group-related activities.
So why is its committee so darned productive and why are the meetings (held quarterly and lasting around 4 hours) so friendly and, dare I say it, fun? My suspicion is that this is largely down to the fact that we have common goals and objectives – none of us are manoeuvring for position, we all want the conference and other events to be a success and for the worth of the Group to be recognised. Another element is probably just the simple fact that it gets us of out of the office 4 times a year and gives us a chance to share with like-minded individuals and get some perspective on the daily grind, as well as some much-needed breathing space. Indeed, this is perhaps the key function of the whole of BBSLG: the communication of that assurance that none of us are alone and that we are all experiencing the same challenges and problems and if we only share them, then we can often solve them together.
An obvious reason for our meeting success is that every member of the committee has a clearly defined role and area of expertise, be it liaison with database vendors, budgeting, website or marketing and communcation. Another element that is perhaps easy to overlook is the importance of the regular venue for the committee meetings – the cosy 2nd floor meeting room at Aston University Library with coffee and biscuits on tap. I’ve been regularly travelling to that room since the autumn of 2002 and without getting too misty-eyed about it, it feels to me like the home of BBSLG. It’s a place where genuine sharing has taken place, and excellent innovation has been dreamed up.
Egos do not thrive there, so I have to keep mine in check. I may have a loud voice and hold forth too much sometimes, but as Chair I’m really there to: facilitate the sharing; ensure that the great ideas are seized upon and developed; and ultimately to make sure we’re on course with all our plans.
The one element that I’ve not mentioned yet is the undoubted contribution of the fact that the committee members are all incredibly friendly and open people and, unless the memory cheats, have always been so. Perhaps this is because we’re all enthusiastic about the profession, motivated and selfless enough to use the fringes of our time for this – largely selfless – activity. We all want to be there. We all freely volunteered for this and have not been instructed to attend. How many meetings do you go to simply because you have to?
To recap, I think the committee works so well for the following reasons:
- Common goals
- Breathing space
- Defined roles
- Complementary expertise
- The right setting
- No egos/selflessness
- The room for sharing and innovation
- Motivation and enthusiasm of committee members
I’m not saying that the BBSLG committee meetings are perfect, but I do suspect that sometimes we drift dangerously near to becoming that ‘virtuoso team’ (which sounds so unattainable and unlikely!), that I often hear about in management development training.
Yay us. (Being British that’s about as far as I can go with the trumpet blowing!)