Saturday, 27 October 2012

Death by Committee

When I sacked the Druidic Council the other day (replacing them with themselves), I decided to ensure that things were going correctly in the various aspects of Beaker Life for which they are responsible. I thought I'd better take a more detailed interest, in other words, in the private empires of my direct report underlings.

It's not that I started chairing all the meetings, deciding all the agendas, deciding strategy. Oh no. That would be serious control-freakery. I see myself as being in more of a holding role. Basically I come along to all the meetings, see how things are going and then just gently correct things if I see they're going down the wrong lines. I'm the one with the overall vision for the Community in my head.  (I'd rather not write it down as it may not stand up to public scrutiny and I'd only have to resort to sulking and taking my ball home.) So it behoves me to ensure that all the streams of activity flow as one river.

Of course, this involves attending a lot of meetings. 48 at the last count, this week alone.

And then there's the pre-meeting meetings to ensure the group leaders know what the right form of grass-roots decision-making and individual inspiration is.

And the post-meeting debriefings, where we discuss just what the group leader allowed to go wrong this time, and the candidates for their replacement.

Frankly, I'm shattered.

I've found myself falling asleep in meetings. Sometimes, as Justin Hayward put it, in the gray of the morning, my mind becomes confused. Which is real life - the Committee or my dreams of fleeing romantically across the border into Buckinghamshire?  The subject-matter being discussed in the real world starts infusing my dream-world. At the Outreach, Mission, Fund-raising and Cake-Baking Committee meeting, I woke up and announced that we were going to have to convert the people of Woburn to Manicheism at the point of the sword. Rather worryingly, three people swore allegiance to me there and then, and went off to arm themselves. And then I proposed to the Worship and Godly Order Group that "smurfs are nice. We should have some robotic, life-size smurf acolytes". The smurfs are now on order.

At night, I'm not sleeping at all - just turning over in my mind all the things that have happened during the committee meetings of the day, and fretting that I've not got the time to do anything about it. I've formed a Committee for the Streamlining of Committees, but they've immediately decided to have five weekly sub-committees, and I'll have to attend those as well now.

Although there is one bright side. At least if I attend the Streamlining (Process) sub-committee, the Streamlining (Governance), Streamlining (Downsizing), Streamlining (Paperclips) and Streamlining (Strategy) sub-committees, I may get a bit more sleep.


  1. Bravissima! yup; you've got it.
    In our context, though, we aren't even appearing to run a democracy, but encouraging people to see themselves as part of a much bigger whole. Even the Adur Valley is very small fry in terms of the Church not just through space, but also through time. In some ways that makes things easier, but in others, harder, since sometimes one isn't sure oneself why the Church does or says something, and one has to hold a line without being totally clear of the rationale. Fortunately, I do believe in the Church, which helps with the details.
    So committees and things are great, but keeping them within their brief can be tricky. It isn't megalomania, but about the wider Church. And I deeply regret the time spent in committees that should have been given to, probably, more important things.
    There is, also, the fact that when someone says 'the laity should be making these decisions', I find that that person is usually someone who has difficult relations with his or her fellow laity; what they usually mean is 'I should be deciding Church policy, and nobody else!'

  2. Committee work is so much easier when you restrict the decision-making to right-thinking people, especially when you're one of them.

    Personally, I find committee work a lot easier if I keep saying 'I'll go along with whatever everyone else wants', but really, that works better for decisions as to where to hold the staff Christmas lunch than for decisions about the direction the Church should be taking.

    (Yes, it's the time of year for booking the staff Christmas lunch, at least around here. And it's not even Hallowe'en yet! Or lunches, technically, because there's the big one with everyone and the little one with one's immediate work group and the various dinner dances and children's parties I don't even vote on much less go to.

  3. I always find that being Chair of the meeting allows it to proceed at my pace, to my agenda and with my desired outcomes.

    It helps of course that the committee is composed of everyone who can't make meetings at 10pm or 2am, for perfectly understandable reasons. But since these are in the middle of my working day, I find it unreasonable for them to expect me to be available 24 hours a day for their convenience.

    No, apologies for absence are standard from all other committee members, and I, form a quorum of one and each meeting is over in five minutes.

    A truly, democratic and representative autocracy.

  4. Some of my samba group begged me to allow them to vote on who should lead at their performance last week, in the interests of democracy. I eyed up the assembled 10 year olds, considered their likely choice of leader, and declared myself to be a dictator. End of discussion. Much the best way in the circs.
    I'm told they did very well.


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