Types of Working Groups Commonly Used in Universities

Name When to use Purpose Examples Advantages
Standing Committee To address a recurring need within an organization Give advice, make decisions or recommendations Curriculum committee, admissions committee Organizational memory, development of expertise
Ad Hoc Committee To address short-term, non-recurring tasks or needs Make a recommendation or accomplish an objective Plan and host a conferenceDecide who receives a special award Flexible use, short-term commitment
Task Force To address a major, complex issue or project Make complex and consequential recommendations Redesign the curriculum Temporary but of major importance
Project Team To accomplish a major, focused task (not just recommendation) Assure that adequate talent and time are devoted to task Funded research project Focuses talent and energy on important deliverable


Name Drawbacks Formal or Informal Tips Other
Standing Committee Can lead to entrenched power; people can burn out Uses procedures often specified in by-laws Set up rotating terms, succession plan for leadership Needs chair who understands role in system
Ad Hoc Committee Can lose its way if charge is not clear and deadlines not set Has no set procedures Establish understandings of role and function early Leader needs good facilitation skills because no procedures are in place
Task Force Can get bogged down; overload, poor commitment possible; can go astray. Procedures determined by task; may be formal or informal in tone Define the charge at the beginning; keep in contact with sponsor group via interim reports Need to keep in mind final decision-makers and their requirements
Project Team Can suffer from lack of necessary time commitment from participating units and members Depends on task or context; good to have well developed methods, adapted to the task at hand Provide focused leadership; use project tools; team members may need training up front Leader needs visible support of higher authority to assure member contribution at times; members need to have a fixed portion of their time committed to the project and budgeted

100plus6Leading an ongoing faculty committee differs from leading a meeting that is called for a specific time-limited activity. A committee is almost always established by, and is accountable to, a larger group (e.g., the department, the school, or the faculty at large). Committees may be set up to make recommendations, carry out tasks for the larger group, or monitor events for that group. Committees may persist for years; others are ad hoc, and may have a life span of only a few weeks or months.

Standing committees typically have chairs and assigned or elected members and keep minutes. Some may follow a very formal procedure, such as that prescribed in Robert’s Rules of Order; but most just hold informal meetings. A meeting of a committee always occurs within the particular context of that committee’s history, task, and traditions.

A faculty task force is typically called together to make a recommendation on a major aspect of University life. For example, the Provost recently authorized a Task Force on Future Appointment, Tenure, and Promotion Policies and Practices. This group began work in 2008, and completed its charge and filed a final report in 2009. A task force usually comprises members representing the units of the University that need to be involved in the task. A task force usually delivers a report and recommendations to the individual (e.g., dean or provost) or group (e.g., the Faculty Council) that appointed it and then disbands. The report may then be acted upon by the appointing authority, or its recommendations debated and then adopted or rejected by a deliberative body such as the Trustees or the Faculty Council. Leading a task force entails much more focus and intensity than leading a series of ad hoc meetings or chairing a standing committee.

While a task force is usually convened to make a recommendation, a project team is usually established to get something done, such as implement a major revision of the unit’s website, carry out a research project, or create plans for a new building. A project team is not an advisory group; it is an implementing group. Members are drawn from various units and are assigned to work on the team. If the project is funded by a grant, members may have specific amounts of their time assigned to the project according to the grant. If the project is not grant-funded, then the time commitment of each member is (or might be) negotiated with the member’s home department or school. When a faculty member leads a project team, he or she takes on the responsibility for coordinating group effort to achieve the stated goals. While leading meetings will be an essential component of what the project team leader does, it is only one among many types of coordination tools he or she will employ to get the job done.



David H. Kiel, Leadership Coordinator
Phone: 919-966-4838