A committee or board is the ultimate decision making body within an organisation, through setting policy and responding to recommendations from its executive officer.
Committees require an effective chair or President, who is able to ensure that participants adhere to the agenda of the meeting and offer constructive and relevant input.
Given the time constraints that often exist within a committee, the use of sub-committees or working groups can be useful mechanisms to explore specific areas of interest in further detail.
A subcommittee needs a specific scope or terms of reference to ensure that members have clear expectations of the outcomes and reporting requirements. A subcommittee should make recommendations to the full committee which ultimately must adopt the findings from the subcommittee.
While a subcommittee is chosen from members within a committee, a working group can also incorporate other individuals, such as experts within a chosen area of interest. This enables a working group to involve people outside the committee, although proceedings will be chaired by a committee member and will report back to the committee.
Working groups and subcommittees enable a committee to investigate a specific area of interest in much further detail than what is able to be undertaken within a committee meeting.
It is imperative that a terms of reference or scope is clearly defined and that there is regular reporting back to the committee, to ensure that all members are kept informed. The Committee should designate a committee member to function as chair for these working groups or subcommittees and it is the chair’s responsibility to report back to the main committee on a regular basis.
While sub-committees and working groups tend to be less formal than a committee meeting, they should still have an agenda and someone taking a record of proceedings.
As an example an organisation may convene a subcommittee to develop policies for an organisation. This subcommittee would be empowered to undertake policy formulation within specific areas as defined by the main committee. Once completed the subcommittee would provide these draft policies as a recommendation to the main committee, which can then amend, reject or adopt these recommendations.
This subcommittee would be able to undertake this detailed work, ensuring that the main committee can adhere to its agenda and deliberate on all items of business.