#409  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 6          June 1999

Getting  Results  From  A  Task  Force
by Ian Jacobsen CMC, FIMC

Mr. Jacobsen is president of Jacobsen Consulting Group (Sunnyvale, CA; phone 408.244.6672; email ian@jacobsenconsulting.com), helping organizations create and implement changes. 

The task force has become a regular part of organizational life.  Task forces are formed to solve multidimensional problems that require stakeholder buy-in in order to find a solution that can be implemented.

Some task forces work well and accomplish their purpose.  Others flounder.  Here are 12 tips to create a productive task force.

1)  Composition:  Include six to twelve people who understand the issues and who will have a role in implementing the solution. Complex problems generally require at least six.   More than twelve can be unwieldy.

2)  Purpose:  Establish a clearly defined purpose for the task force, and a target time for completion of its task.  Write this on easel pad paper and prominently display it at each meeting to keep people focused. Clarify the resources and authority of the task force.  Will it just be recommending, or will it be implementing, too?

3)  Launching:  At the first meeting, confirm the purpose of the task force, and why each member was selected for it.  Ask people to introduce themselves and state:

•  What they bring and how they can benefit from participation.

•  What behavior of others on a task force helps bring out the best in them.

•  What behavior of others on a task force really annoys them.

4)  Ground rules:  Brainstorm ground rules. Then ask people if they can "live with" them.  Work on them until you have a set that everyone will commit to.  Post them at every meeting.  Review them at the start of each meeting to refresh people's memory, and at the end, in the meeting review.

5)  Facilitator:  Choose an open-minded person with good facilitation skills.  The facilitator's role is to help the task force move forward.  Someone who is seen as trying to sway the group toward his/her position will have limited effectiveness.

6)  Agenda:  Each meeting needs an agenda with a set time for each item.  All task force members need input into the agenda.  The agenda should be distributed before a meeting, so people can prepare for it.

7)  Participation:  For a task force to achieve its goal, everyone needs to participate.  The facilitator is responsible for drawing out people who are reticent and limiting those who are too talkative.  If someone is repeatedly absent, does not participate, or asks to drop out, let them leave.  Replace them with someone who will participate and add value.

8)  Alternatives:  Seek creative alternatives. There’s seldom only one possible solution.

9)  Consensus:  Consensus decisions are typically a task-force goal.  Consensus is not unanimous agreement.  It means that critical stakeholders can "live with" a decision.

10)  Process monitor:  Group dynamics are a key to what a task force can accomplish.  Appoint a process monitor to observe how the group interacts.  Include a report of his/her observations during the meeting review to help improve how people relate to each other.  Rotate this role through the group from meeting to meeting.

11)  Meeting review:  Save five to ten minutes at the end of a meeting to review how it went.

•  How did we do in relation to our ground rules?

•  What worked well today?

•  What should we change to have a more effective meeting next time?

12)  Notes:  Meeting notes clarify, record and communicate points that need to be remembered.  Appoint a recorder to write and distribute notes on a timely basis.

When a task force is composed of the right people, is energized with an important purpose, and focused in well-run meetings, creative results will be achieved.

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