Many mid-sized and large public and private companies assemble steering committees for specific projects or general management workflows. At the same time, it’s common for projects to perform poorly. For instance, 84% of digital transformation projects fail to meet business objectives.

Poor performance results come from the challenges steering project teams face. This article explores the best practices on the composition, agenda, and meetings for steering committees.

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What is a steering committee?

A steering committee is a committee that oversees the organization’s specific projects and ensures their alignment with long-term strategic objectives.

The steering committee’s purpose is to deal with strategic projects, such as mergers and acquisitions (M&A), initial public offerings (IPO), divestitures, digital transformations, etc. 

What does a steering committee do?

The steering committee roles and responsibilities are the following:

  1. Strategic direction. It aligns projects with broader company strategic planning initiatives and makes project-related decisions, such as M&A target screening, regulatory oversight during IPO, etc. It oversees resource allocation across ongoing projects and may report to the advisory committee.
  2. Risk management. It detects, evaluates, and addresses material, legal, and reputational risks on the project level. Steering committees monitor risk mitigation strategies.
  3. Cross-functional collaboration. Steering committees coordinate cross-functional teams in complex projects, such as post-merger integration (PMI). Steering committee members meet with the executive committee, audit committee, and other subdivisions of the board to align decisions and outcomes.
  4. Stakeholder communications. Steering committees inform stakeholders and shareholders about the project’s progress, including milestones, timelines, and KPIs.

Steering committee structure

As per Deloitte’s Purpose-Led Governance survey, companies typically have 5-10 members on steering committees. A project steering committee comprises C-suite executives, senior managers, senior stakeholders, and subject matter experts.

Unlike the nomination or fundraising committee, a steering subdivision comprises individuals who support business projects directly rather than govern the board of directors.

Committee memberExampleRoles
Board members⏺ Committee Chair
⏺ Board Secretary
⏺ Provide guidance on project execution
⏺ Oversee the committee workflows
⏺ Run committee meetings
C-suite executives⏺ Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
⏺ Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
⏺ Chief Information Officer (CIO)
⏺ Provide strategic and financial oversight
⏺ Oversee major decisions
⏺ Coordinate cross-functional departments
Department employees⏺ Head of Sales
⏺ Head of IT
⏺ Head of HR
⏺ Provide feedback and suggestions on business functions
⏺ Align the project’s strategies and operations
Senior stakeholders and project managers⏺ Executive Sponsor
⏺ Workforce Plan
⏺ Project Manager
⏺ Provide strategic support for the project
⏺ Secure project funding
⏺ Coordinate day-to-day project execution
Subject matter experts (internal or external)⏺ Cybersecurity experts
⏺ Legal experts
⏺ Auditors
⏺ Provide advice
⏺ Close expertise gaps
⏺ Ensure legal compliance

3 best composition practices for steering committees

Here are the best committee composition practices for project success:

  1. Keep the committee size manageable. Ensure your committee size is on the lower side of the 5-10 member range. Too many members tend to produce conflicting advice that lowers the overall quality of the steering committee work.
  2. Ensure leadership of the project sponsor. A proactive executive sponsor with a personal interest in the project delivers higher results. 
  3. Leverage project-based composition. A company may have a portfolio steering committee and an executive steering committee with distinct roles. It’s preferable to adjust the committee composition so that its collective expertise meets the project’s requirements.
Pro tip: Check steering committee examples: OpenQASM, Microsoft Adoption, ctcLink Project

How to run a steering committee meeting effectively?

Harvard Business Review has revealed that over 70% of meetings keep employees from accomplishing meaningful tasks. Still, companies continue spending over $100 million annually on unproductive meetings. Fortunately, reversing this trend is easy if project steering committees follow a few sound practices.

Steering committee meetingBest practices
Before the meeting✅ Set a tangible, manageable meeting objective. It should be detailed and specific.
Example: “Examine deal price renegotiation ranges based on the target’s IT infrastructure vulnerability and provide decisions to the upcoming safety committee meeting.”
✅ Create a steering committee meeting agenda. It should comprise meeting topics and topic facilitators.
✅ Circulate pre-meeting materials such as reports and previous meeting minutes a week or two before the meeting.
During the meeting✅ Use motions for topic presentations to avoid off-topic discussions. You can check Robert’s Rules of Order for considerations on meeting motions.
✅ Encourage active participation from meeting attendees and support problem-solving activities.
✅ Assign follow-up tasks between meetings.
After the meeting✅ Distribute the meeting agenda and meeting minutes in the next 24 – 48 hours to keep members on track and maintain accountability.
✅ Collect feedback from meeting attendees. Emphasize meeting efficiency, convenience, and future considerations.
✅ Inform stakeholders about meeting outcomes and decisions.

Effective steering committee meeting agenda

An efficient agenda is the cornerstone of productive safety committee meetings. Based on our experience, an efficient meeting agenda addresses the following points:

  • Item quantity. Prioritize agenda items based on relevance and urgency. Consider the number of topics you can process in a 1.5-2-hour session.
  • Topic presentation. Assign each participant a topic to boost engagement. It’s advisable to rotate topic facilitators periodically for better meeting efficiency.
  • Time constraints. Set time restrictions to agenda items and move items for the next meeting if they exceed the designated time.

For visual clarity, check the examples of the committee meeting agenda:

  1. Florida Department of Health
  2. New York State Department of Health
  3. Open Government Partnership

You can download a configurable meeting agenda template below.

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Steering committee best practices: Challenges and solutions

Steering committees face common challenges:

  • Low accountability. Lack of accountability persists in the committee projects. It creates ambiguity in performance results and prevents committees from quality self-assessments.
  • Unbalanced roles and responsibilities. Lack of clarity in committee roles and responsibilities erodes efficiency as committee duties and outside commitments often overlap.
  • Unclear stakeholder communications. Lack of stakeholder communications prevents committees from addressing diverse stakeholder interests. Low accountability and vague committee roles exacerbate misunderstandings between committee members and key stakeholders.
Pro tip: Develop an executive communications plan to improve interactions between steering committee members and key stakeholders.

High-performing committees employ the following practices for addressing issues and boosting project performance.

Increasing accountability

The following practices help steering committees increase accountability in program execution:

  1. Keep detailed meeting minutes. Detailed meeting minutes simplify progress tracking when committee members review project reports. Meeting minutes improve self-evaluations and reports to the board of directors.
  2. Reimagine performance reviews. Consulting firms recommend linking project performance metrics to metrics of project leads and involved executives. It clarifies which executives drag or boost the project.
  3. Set tangible KPIs. Emphasize quantifiable project metrics such as financials, time, and number of completed objectives. Below, you can see an example of quantifiable PMI KPIs.
Quantifiable post-merger integration KPIs (sample)
Integration streamProject team leadTargetProject BudgetProject timelineTarget completedBudget spentStatus
ITJohn Smith12 objectives$12 million12 months8/12$15 millionIn progress
CommercialBenjamin Miller10 objectives$7 million5 months7/10$6 millionIn progress
OperationalOlivia Davis10 objectives$15 million10 months9/10$13 millionIn progress
HREmily Johnson8 objectives$5 million5 months10/10$4.5 millionCompleted

Balancing responsibilities: A steering committee charter

A detailed steering committee charter aligns committee responsibilities, member commitments, and performance expectations. A quality steering committee charter has the following structure:

  1. Composition. Define employees on the steering committees, including senior executives and external advisors.
  2. Authority scope. Outline the limits of the committee’s reach. Indicate the purpose of a steering committee and list projects under its responsibility.
  3. Duties & powers. State steering committee’s responsibilities. Indicate the duties and responsibilities of each member and project-specific roles.
  4. Meeting procedures. State the format and frequency of the committee meetings. Outline roles and responsibilities of members during meetings, including meeting lead, minute taker, voters, presenters, etc. Also, align members on meeting software choices.
  5. Voting procedures. Establish quorum requirements and describe the decision-making process. Clarify voting procedures (roll call voting, voting by ballot) and eligibility thresholds, such as simple majority or two-thirds majority procedures.
  6. Reporting procedures. Decide on the format of reports, reporters’ responsibilities, and the reporting structures. Clarify communication channels for feedback, issue tracking, and corrective actions.

Improving stakeholder communications

Organizations with low-maturity project capabilities complete only 52% of intended project goals. In contrast, businesses with high-maturity project capabilities complete as much as 77% of objectives. They also use dedicated project management software to involve stakeholders in the committee projects.

Source: Project Management Institute

Board portals are among the best tools for boosting stakeholder communications in steering committees. They have dedicated capabilities for the following:

  • Seamless communication. Stakeholders and steering committee members can contact each other and access critical project data directly in the board portal.
  • Central data storage. A board portal features a centralized data repository where committee members can upload, download, and share necessary materials.
  • Collaborative roles. Turnkey roles and permissions allow committee members to invite stakeholders and share data selectively without risking privacy and security.
  • Powerful meeting capabilities. Board portals offer meeting calendars, agenda builders, and voting tools for seamless decision-making and accurate stakeholder reporting.

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The bottom line

  1. Steering committees deal with specific projects, such as M&A, IPO, due diligence, etc. 
  2. The committee comprises senior executives, employee departments, key stakeholders, and advisors.
  3. High-performing steering committees set quantifiable KPIs for project assessments and review individual executives’ performance in conjunction with the project.
  4. A detailed committee charter helps steering members differentiate specific committee duties and regular commitments. 
  5. Successful steering committees use board portals for better productivity during meetings and higher stakeholder involvement. 
  6. Agenda templates help with meeting productivity and informed decisions.

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What is the role of a steering committee?

The committee coordinates the execution of specific business projects. It provides oversight, strategic support, and advisory assistance.

Who is usually on a steering committee?

The committee comprises senior executives, heads of functional departments, key stakeholders, and advisors. It can also include board officers based on the organization’s size and the steering committee roles.

What is the difference between a board and a steering committee?

The board of directors provides strategic governance and approves major decisions like mergers and acquisitions. A board of directors consists primarily of independent directors

A corporate steering committee reports to the board of directors and oversees specific projects. For instance, its function is to supervise post-merger integration once the board of directors approves the deal closing.

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Casey Johnson Marketing strategist
Casey Johnson is a seasoned marketing strategist specializing in board portals. With over a decade of experience, she spearheads comprehensive marketing campaigns to enhance brand visibility and drive growth. Casey orchestrates content plans, conducts market research, and collaborates with content creators to ensure impactful marketing strategies.
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