Teams & Task Forces

You have developed a shared agenda for change and the department seems enthusiastic about effecting real improvement. However, there appears to be an overwhelming amount of work for you alone and you are worried if you try to lead everything, everyone will find fault in some aspect of every effort. How do you distribute the workload and ensure everyone has ‘skin in the game’?

While committees and individuals have ongoing responsibilities, sometimes extraordinary initiatives require a different strategy for implementation. One way to address these extraordinary initiatives is to create a task force. Task forces, compared with committees, have a specific task (or set of tasks), are comprised of individuals specifically in charge of delivering that task, and generally have a specific time frame in order to do so.

Task forces, like committees, need terms of reference. The goals for the task force and its measures of success must be explicit. In contrast to committees where a single chair is usually chosen, it may be useful to have co-leaders. Co-leaders from two different disciplines can set the expectation for multidisciplinary involvement and minimize the possibility that professional hierarchy will influence deliberations and decisions. Task force leadership is also an opportunity for both leadership development and the testing of future leaders (I will be writing more about Leadership Development in an upcoming post). The roles of each member of the task force should be discussed as a group and agreed upon. While the chair(s) is/are often assigned, the membership of the task force can be volunteers with varied expertise and added to as needed. Like committees, however, members of the task force should be clear that they are not participating to represent their constituencies, but to accomplish task force objectives. Any axe grinding needs to be left at the door.

Rather than allowing a task force to develop its own work schedule, it may be useful to set specific expectations. For example, rather than letting the task force schedule meetings on an ad hoc basis, meetings should ideally be scheduled on a regular basis either weekly or biweekly. Expectations for completion of the task force objectives should be no longer than 12–18 months to ensure momentum is not lost.

Task forces need support to be successful. At a minimum, that support should include administrative (i.e. to set up meetings, take minutes, follow up action items, circulate minutes and agendas, etc.) and a mechanism to collect data. Data is vital to understand the task and, in many cases, measure success. Two other valuable skills that can support a task force are project management (i.e. to set up and manage time lines) and process improvement (i.e. to provide methodological support for complex change management challenges).

To keep the task force on track, have it report its progress to an individual (i.e. leader) or committee (i.e. leadership team) monthly or bi-monthly. Task forces should also develop its own communication strategy to engage the broader community and keep the constituents informed. The final outcome of the task force should be a tangible measureable accomplishment(s), and not a set of recommendations for more or alternative actions.

In conclusion, task forces differ from committees in that they have narrow time-limited mandates with an explicit and narrow set of goals. If given appropriate guidance, tangible support and held accountable for progress against goals, task forces are an effective strategy to achieve meaningful change.

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