Committee Can’t Make Decisions

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Question: I had a one-hour meeting today with 12 people who all agreed that some compliance standard had to be addressed in the manual, but none of them could tell me how. I read the compliance standard and it’s complete gobbledygook that doesn’t seem to apply at all to the product. I could take a guess and then have them tell me it’s wrong, but what DO I put in the manual?


This is what is known as “committee heat death“, a form of entropy. What worked for me was yelling.

This occurred at the end of one meeting about the Product Q, where not one single content decision had been made. Several people said that some compliance standard or other should be addressed but none of them would commit to suggesting specific content or wording changes. I couldn’t parse the standard well enough myself to make any judgments.

It was like the I Ching for Standstill:

“Heaven and earth are out of communion and all things are benumbed. What is above has no relation to what is below, and on earth confusion and disorder prevail.”

I barely stopped myself from screaming, “Would one of you PLEASE grow a pair?” but I did point out, rather loudly, that we’d been sitting there for an hour without any outcomes whatsoever, and that I couldn’t actually move forward.

This apparently so upset the guys in Compliance that they’d do anything to avoid hearing That Voice again. They became much more forthcoming about actually, ahh, committing to an opinion. They’d been in a state of paralysis because they were new, and anything compliance-related tends to induce caution and a CYA mindset. No one wanted to take responsibility for openly stating anything.

Also worth noting that the committee size was too big. I think an ideal review team size is 3-5 at most. This team had 12 or more, all from different groups, all pulling in different directions, and none of them felt ownership over the entire doc – only over THEIR portion of it. Different stakeholders kept adding more and more stuff in, not caring that it made the document unusable.

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