What's wrong with committees?

On a show about skyscraper design, I’ve heard that decisions made by committee tend produce bad results. Is this true and if so, to what extent? What could be the cause of it? What are the alternatives?

The real issue is how the committee is led or facilitated. A group of folks assembled with no clear direction, leadership or a process to follow is likely to not go well.

In a recent (highly recommended) book called The Checklist Manifesto, New Yorker writer and Harvard Med School MD Atul Gawande discusses how establishing a checklist of essential steps is key to doing complex tasks - obviously he cites surgeries as an example. But he spend a full chapter on skyscrapers and large construction projects - he shows how successful large-scale builders are complex checklist nuts - they have software that manages the lists and coordinates them - so yeah, there are teams of folks representing different interests associated with getting a building done - but they are coordinated like there is no tomorrow…

ETA: by the way, a major part of my job / area of expertise is leadership team facilitation - basically running committees. When they are run well, you’d be amazed how productive they can be…

How many great works of art were designed by committee?

When it comes to large buildings, the good ones tend to have been the vision of one or a small number of architects. (Many of the ugly ones, too. That giant turd in London, for example.)

When a project is designed by committee, the ambition and risk-takingness of a single visionary is generally blunted in favor of appeasement and compromise, and this leads to bland or unoriginal design. Just look at the horrible mess that has become of the replacement for the World Trade Center.

That’s not to say committees are a bad thing. The necessary haggling and compromise involved in democratic government is a loathsome pastime but probably better than living in an autocracy.

Are you talking about consensus decision making? If so, I agree that consensus decision making is a poor way of making decisions. Someone needs to have the authority to make the decision. A good decision maker will get input from various sources before making a decision, and will even ask for people to challenge their decision, to help improve the decision making process. But when you try to please everyone in the process, the best decision, normally doesn’t get made, unless everyone’s incentives are aligned.

Do you understand why too many cooks spoil the soup?

In a way, this is precisely what I’m asking. I have some ideas of my own but I’d like to have other people’s opinion.

Best-case scenario, your committee works the way group projects worked in school: one or two talented people carry everyone else for the duration, and everything comes off okay.

Worst-case scenario, your committee works like your extended family trying to figure out where to eat dinner, and you wind up at 10:15 trying to get a table at the Chinese buffet because it’s the only place (a) still seating and (b) with at least one dish everyone can and/or will eat (providing you picked the Chinese buffet that serves pizza, not the one that only serves spaghetti).

I propose we form a committee to look at best strategies to answer this question.

Let’s put it to a vote, all those in favor?

Wait, we need to nominate a chairperson first.

Oh, right, what was I thinking. :smack:

Shall we just nominate people, or vote on what method to use for selecting a chairperson?

Well, we need an acting chairperson to chair the method selection sub-committee.

Who made you the person in charge of what we need?

…and that’s why we can’t have nice things; committees.

If you’re interested enough to read a book, I highly recommend James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds. Easy-to-read, good stuff about when/why groups make good decisions and when/why they make bad ones.

Thank you miss.

As a designer I can tell you my worst buildings are those that had a committee on the client side. If there is no one that can make a decision then everything becomes a compromise–and my experience is that the costs go up significantly.

Person A wants arched windows, but Person B on the committee doesn’t like arches and wants some of them taken out, but Person C wants a gable roof, whereas Person D wants a shed roof, etc. So you end up with this hodge podge of mismatched items that each person can feel they had some input on the design but the whole thing together is a piece of shit!

Or the committee makes a decision and you document it, but behind the scenes politics are going on and right before or after it goes out to bid the committee changes their collective mind since the person now has the votes for what he wants. This of course means everything drawn is incorrect but the deadline doesn’t change and thus things are not coordinated, etc and when the contractor starts building there are cost change orders due to the conflicts.

Contrast that with a strong project manager on the Owner side who makes decisions quickly and decisively and who stands by those decisions. You want arches and gable roofs–damn it I can give you arches and gable roofs but they will be designed well and coordinated and not some hodge podge building.

so my opinion–Fuck committees :cool:

My experience after having been involved in arranging a couple of biggish dos is that you don’t need a committee. What you want is a dictator.

My experience with committees is they’re fake.

I would be on a committee and the boss or head already made up their mind the direction they would go. So why bother asking me? This way if the choice is poor the head can shift the blame from himself to the group.

Maybe other people have better luck, but I’ve never been on a committee where it wasn’t like that.

This notion that committees are fake is rather similar to my experience at a big multinational corporation. Someone dictated what the decision was to be and the result coming out of the committee was that this was the decision of the “team”. Often the poor dopes setting in the committee never knew that they were not an active party in the creation of the decision.

Because history provides us with no examples of any bad results ever coming from having a dictator run things.