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Spotlight on: Five Tips on the Pitfalls and Practicalities of Using Committees

New York City

Sept. 2, 2014

Do you need a committee? Not every building is ripe for such a system; those with five to ten units might find it superfluous. When the function of the committee can easily be handled by the board, that tells you that you don't need a committee. 

What kind of committee do you need? That depends on the kinds of problems you face. There are two general types of committee: those with decision-making power and those that are advisory in nature.

Boards can simplify decision-making by giving some committees limited authority to make decisions. For a committee to have the authority to act, it must be created by the articles of incorporation, the bylaws, or a resolution of the full board. When a committee is created by board resolution, that resolution should specifically, in writing, express the powers and limits being delegated.

Much more common are advisory committees, which can help analyze problems, review facts and gather information and alternatives, but do not make decisions. The most typical of this type are finance and administration, which advise on money matters; maintenance, which keeps watch on the building's cleanliness and general upkeep; decoration, which handles lobby and hallway renovation; communications, which publishes the newsletter / website; resale, which handles admissions interviews; grievance, which looks into complaints; and community services, which liaises with the shareholders.

How big should the committee be? It can range from two or three people to as many as ten. Remember: Larger groups are harder to manage and it is more difficult to get everyone together at one time.

Who should be included? A member of the board should chair each committee. This is crucial because the board member is a conduit to the full board and its decision-making. The rest of the group should include people with knowledge of the subject being investigated. If you're setting up a finance committee, try to get an accountant; for a legal committee, a lawyer; for a design committee, architects and artists.

How do you avoid the pitfalls of committees? Committees go wrong by assuming too much authority and not remaining within the guidelines of the board. If a committee oversteps its bounds and believes whatever recommendations it makes must be followed, there can be conflicts with the board. To avoid pitfalls, set parameters — clearly defined responsibilities and goals.


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Adapted from "Creating a Camel" by Tom Soter (Habitat, October 2002)

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