Traditionally, workplace committees have served as cost-effective ways to boost staff professional development credentials, as well as to recognize exemplary employees and foster better communication. Yet, as Winning WorkplacesInc.'s partner for the Top Small Company Workplaces award—noticed when evaluating applicants during the 2010 award cycle, small businesses are using them in ever more creative and systematic ways to improve business metrics. Here are five noteworthy committees used by some of last year's applicants for our award:

1. Management Committee. At the National Bureau of Property Administration, a Chicago-based provider of property valuation services, one of the ways in which the firm lives its core value of giving their small staff (they have 21 employees) a high level of responsibility is through their Management Committee. Made up of workers at all levels, it takes an annual retreat to review and update the company strategic plan as well as their five-year revenue and expense forecast. Leadership reports that this committee not only helps employees grow in their current job, it helps them develop skills needed to grow in future roles in the company.

2. Benefits Committee. Some business leaders might balk at the notion of turning the responsibility for determining the annual structure and review process for the employee benefits package over to workers themselves. This is not the case at The Leadership and Learning Center, a provider of organizational performance management services in Salem, Massachusetts. Here a representational segment of their 96 employees break into committees charged with both revising package offerings, and administering and analyzing the results of a twice-yearly benefits survey of all team members. Leaders say this practice is partly responsible for a big decrease in turnover, from as high as 40 percent in the 1990s to the low single digits in recent years.

3. Business Development Committee. "We continuously strive to spread the entrepreneurial ethic across all levels of the organization through structured efforts specifically related to business development," leaders of Erie, Pennsylvania-based organizational consultancy McManis & Monsalve Associates said in their award application. One of these efforts that have paid off for the firm, in the form of a client retention rate of over 80 percent, is their Business Development Team. Made up of five employees a various levels and functions, its tasks span the capture and dissemination of new business opportunities, maintaining partner relationships, and internal and external brand marketing.

4. Customer Committee. Think an informal, ad hoc committee can't make a big impact on productivity? Think again. Two years ago Sonora, California-based software firm Front Porch assembled such a committee, called Team Customer. The idea was to give all of their 73 employees access to a customer conversation. Management betted that doing this, while trusting line workers to take immediate action on a customer's issue—as opposed to sending it up the chain of command—would increase their satisfaction, leading to more repeat business and referrals. It was a fruitful wager; everyone now better understands what Front Porch calls VOC, or "voice of the customer," and by extension they link in a more fundamental way their daily work to the success of the firm. That's a recipe for stronger retention.

5. For ESOP companies: ESOP Education Committee. Lititz, Pennsylvania-based Sechan Electronics, an industrial goods manufacturer, implemented an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in 1989, giving employees a 40 percent stake in the business. They went 100 percent in 2008 and formed their ESOP Education Committee the same year. The results have been "fantastic," leaders say—their share price has increased each of the last 15 years, at an average rate of 19 percent. Crucial to this success has been the cross-departmental committee's focus on surveying the attitudes and comprehension of their broad employee base, and then designing education programs to close the gaps in understanding.