Best Practices for Building Steering Committees and Project Teams

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 @ 12:38 PM

We’ve all seen them. Projects that are being governed by a Steering Committee that is nowhere near as effective as it could be. Or Project Teams that aren’t made up of the right kind of resources causing a project to slow down to a crawl or even stall out completely. As experts in Change Management, we know Steering Committees and Project Teams who don’t work well together can be a fatal flaw in any change initiative. Successful Business Project Team Cheering

In fact, we tell our Change Management Consulting clients all of the time that one of the ways organizations can “go faster” is to structure projects more effectively, both from a governance and a Project Team perspective. To follow are a few best practices for both Steering Committees and Project Teams based on the principles of the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM).

The Steering Committee

Steering Committees are a governance favorite in many organizations. They are usually made up of a small group of leaders from different functions charged with overseeing or “steering” an initiative. But, here’s the #1 problem with most Steering Committee’s… more often than not they are too big for fast decision making!

According to Don Harrison, the developer of the AIM change management framework, the magic number for a Steering Committee is 6. This is the right number of leaders to not get bogged down, but still be large enough to not become viewed as a dictatorship of just 1 or 2 people who lack the ability to represent the whole but are still making decisions.

An effective Steering Committee should be focused on fast decision-making and not simply listening to reporting from the Project Team members. Most importantly, it is crucial to understand the Steering Committee is not a substitute for line Sponsorship! Why? Because the Committee Members do not have the authority to apply reinforcements with Targets of the change. As an example, if the VP of Finance is on the Steering Committee, that individual can’t reinforce behavioral changes in IT; only the CIO can do that!

The cascade of committed Sponsors at each level of the organization who are Expressing, Modeling, and Reinforcing personal, visible commitment is what is going to drive the implementation at speed.

The Project Team

We get asked a lot during our Change Management Training Programs what makes a Project Team work, who should be on it and what exactly should they be doing? Don’s advice is simple. Here are some best practices to follow:

1. Project Team membership should vary over time. What you need at the front end of the change is not the same as what you need in the middle, or at the end. In our Mini Guide to Installation vs. Implementation, we show you who you will need and when, including:

  • Technical Expertise – Subject Matter Expertise is, of course, a crucial role on the Project Team. But be careful! Don’t make the mistake of having the entire team be made up of SME’s. There are other roles on the team that are just as important.
  • Implementation ExpertiseChange Agents need to be involved from the beginning of the project and should be an integral part of the Project Team. There is important implementation work to be done early on to build change readiness, manage resistance, and secure the required Sponsorship for the change. Change Agents are needed to ensure this work is getting done.
  • People Who Have Good Relationships with Sponsors and Targets – It’s not just about the type of roles needed, it’s also just as important to ensure the people chosen for the team have the right relationships with the rest of the organization. Trust and credibility are essential when you are dealing with senior Sponsors and Targets. The higher the level of trust, the greater the speed of implementation. It’s just that simple.

2. It’s better to have fewer people who spend more time on the project. The fact is, it is far better to have fewer people involved, but at a more intense level. When you have many people devoting small portions of time to transformational change, or complex enterprise-wide change, you end up spending a lot of time keeping people up-to-date on what happened. It's just not efficient.

3. Don’t overlook including “resisters” to help on implementation. This may surprise a few people, but involving people who are resisting the change can be a very powerful way to help build commitment and readiness. Think of it like this… if you put your most resistant person on the team, you know exactly where they are and what they are doing! And in our experience, they can have some very good ideas on how to implement (not whether to implement, but “how!”)

4. The people on the Project Team need to be treated as Targets first! You can’t assume the members of the Project Team will lead the change just because they are part of the team. They need to have the same questions answered as Targets--“What's in it for me?” and “What does it mean to me?”


Steering Committees and Project Teams are often the backbone of a change initiative. The project can’t move forward without them. But when they aren’t effective a project will slow down or even stall out. How are your Steering Committees and Project Teams structured? Could they be more effective?

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Topics: Change Agents, Leadership, Project Management, Implementation Planning, Change Management Consulting