Steering Your Committee Toward a Successful Project

Vintage steering wheel illustrates successful way to run a committee

This month I was privileged to meet with two new clients. While the organizations are quite different from one another, they both formed excellent steering committees for the project we’re about to undertake. It’s interesting how committee-based projects go. Over the years I’ve been part of many, some as a member of the committee and others as a hired professional. What’s consistent in all of them is how much the committee determined the success of the project.

Is your organization is taking on a committee-based project? Here are some ideas for forming that committee, working with your hired professional, and ensuring the outcome is the best it can be.

Committee Members Make a Difference

  1. Recruit a diversity
    Committees are formed to achieve a specific goal. While that goal is one-fold, the project’s targeted audience likely is not. A committee that roundly represents the audience will generate more ideas, more perspectives and more creativity for better solutions.
  2. Keep it small
    This may seem contrary to what I’ve just said above, however the more people you have on your committee the harder it is to make conclusive decisions. Research by Wharton School of Business  suggests 5-6 members is an ideal number. I personally prefer 3-4, not including the creative professional, and an odd number is best to avoid stalemates in voting.

Attitude is Everything

  1. Support the project
    A positive attitude is key. It should be a given that everyone on the committee is on board with pursuing the project.
  2. Be open to all ideas
    Committee meetings should be enthusiastic brainstorming sessions. Members should be confident enough to share their ideas. They must also be open-minded enough to listen to others and consider their ideas even if they at first seem strange.
  3. Be kind
    The committee must build up its members. No question is dumb. No idea is bad. Concepts are for developing, not shutting down.
  4. Be respectful of time
    Whether paid or volunteering, everyone is busy. Each person’s time is equally as important as another’s. Be organized, uphold your responsibilities, and meet your deadlines. Show up to meetings on time. Limit meetings to a maximum length.


  1. Communicate with each other
    Clear, positive and constructive communication is imperative amongst every member of the committee.
  2. Define roles
    Determine who on the committee will be contributors, who will be the final decision-maker and who will communicate to the hired professional.
  3. Appoint one person-of-contact to your professional (only one!)
    Professional creatives cannot sift through each committee member’s instruction and determine whose they should follow. Instead, appoint a person of contact to reliably go between the committee and the professional. Often the person of contact is also the decision-maker.

Trust Your Professional’s Expertise

  1. Let the professional lead
    Professional creatives are skilled leaders of the brainstorming process. They know what questions to ask and how to encourage discussions to deeper depths. Be receptive to their guidance.
  2. Let the professionals do what you’ve hired them to do
    The bane of professional creatives is “design by committee,” which inevitably results in a “camel instead of a horse.” Nothing blows a project’s timeline, budget, or quality more than too many people doing the professional’s job.
  3. Offer constructive feedback
    I once had a committee member tell me in a most insolent way that my concepts looked like they were done by an eighth-grader. Needless to say, as thick as my skin is, that wasn’t a productive start to our meeting. True professionals welcome your feedback, but they need to know specifically what is or isn’t working for you and most importantly, why. After offering this, you can then let them go ahead and solve the problem.

Your Turn

Committee-based projects often get a bad rap, but my new clients prove when managed right, they can be very successful. What suggestions can you add to this list?




4 thoughts on “Steering Your Committee Toward a Successful Project”

  1. Several times I’ve been the designer for committees made up of volunteers and among them is another designer. Not a good thing at all. Definitely too many cooks working on the broth. My advise is if you have a designer on board, hire him or ask him to donate his time. But don’t put him on the committee if you’re going to hire someone else.

    • BadgerGirl, so true. I’ve experienced something similar when a committee member took our work to her designer friend for critiquing. I’m all for receiving other professional’s input, in fact I frequently ask for it. However, it’s important that person fully understands the scope of the project, the goals, the target market–in other words, the creative brief.

  2. My favorite and most productive projects were for committees that operated on POSITIVE energy! They had a shared passion and believed the project would truly benefit others. They radiated a contagious enthusiasm. They got along. They respected each other and they respected me. When all this happens, the designer and committee easily become a bond, a team, and what they can do together is AMAZING!

    • Isn’t that the truth for every project! Thanks for the reminder that as the designer, I need to go in to every committee meeting glowing with positive energy. You’re right, attitudes are contagious!

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