Department: Leadership Q&A
Becoming a chairperson
Q I was asked to chair a task force on fall prevention. How do I begin?
Congratulations! Leading a task force can be very rewarding. There are several points to ponder before accepting this position.
Do you have the time to commit to being the chairperson of a task force? Although a task force is a temporary event, it does take a time commitment. There's time in the preparation and follow-up of meetings, as well as the actual time in the meetings.
Do you have the knowledge and talent to be the chairperson? This doesn't mean that you have to be an expert on the topic, but you do have to have some knowledge of the problem you're trying to solve. By talent, I mean that you need to be able to run an effective meeting.
The next question you should ask is will you have an executive leader sponsor or executive supporter? If so, it's important to find out what his or her expectations are for the fall task force. You'll want to make sure that the task force can meet these expectations.
Now that you've said “yes” to being the chairperson, there are several steps you can take to ensure your success. First, start by planning the agenda; be very clear about what needs to be discussed. It can be helpful to provide time limits to each agenda item so that everything is addressed during the allotted meeting time. Provide every member with his or her own packet of information. This can decrease the number of “sidebars” that occur when participants have to share. Start and end meetings on time to show respect for team members and their other responsibilities. If you plan to rely on technology for any part of your meeting, confirm that it functions before the start of the meeting.
At your first meeting, share the expectations of the executive leader. This can lay the groundwork for the group to set goals based on the desired expectations. Remember to conduct introductions; you never want to assume that all of the attendees know each other. The next action will be to establish group rules. It may seem silly to have rules, such as “don't interrupt other people,” but they're needed. Some task forces even include not looking at your mobile device during the meeting, which can distract members easily. At the first meeting, it's beneficial to establish the regular day and time for future meetings to enlist commitment from the members.
As the chairperson, it's your responsibility to involve all of the members in discussions and decisions throughout the life of the task force. Keep in mind that this isn't the venue for you to promote your platform. You can contribute, but you're really there in the role of a facilitator. When there are action items on the meeting agenda, make sure they're assigned to team members, which makes it easier for follow-up at future meetings. If this doesn't occur, members may not take responsibility for the tasks. At the end of the meeting, recap what occurred, including follow-up task assignments and due dates.
Lastly, be prepared to deal with difficult people during meetings. It's highly unlikely that everyone at the meeting volunteered to be on the task force. When issues occur, remind the group of the rules set at the first meeting. It helps if you keep the rules posted on a flip chart as a reminder. Remember to be consistent when addressing behaviors that break the group rules. There may be occasions when you need to address a reoccurring offender; this can be more effectively addressed outside of normal meeting times. Simply ask the team member to stay for a few minutes after the meeting ends. The sooner you can address the behavior, the better the outcome for the task force.
Being the chairperson may be scary, but you can deter this feeling by preparing thoroughly before every meeting. And don't forget to recollect the task force's journey and celebrate its successes when it concludes. Good luck!