Order at Board Meetings

Last week we had our first Governance Out of the Box, a dinner networking event with a mock board meeting on the Arts United campus. The actors gave a great performance of the things not to do in a board meeting. Stewardship Nominees between the acts commented on what was wrong and offered some suggestions for improvement. A few times the Robert’s Rules of Order was brought up in discussion. As such, we wanted to provide you with a little more insight in the standard procedure for running meetings.

First of all you are not alone if you are unsure of how to lead a meeting or even participate as a voting member. General Robert didn’t know how either and said “My embarrassment was supreme. I plunged in, trusting to Providence that the Assembly would behave itself.” Clearly we all know that people don’t always behave themselves. For example, our mock board meeting last week when two board members (also dating each other) were having a personal argument throughout the meeting. Good thing General Henry Martyn Robert was there to save us all!

Spoiler alert – if you aren’t into history (with a little dramatic flair), skip this next paragraph.  You’ll be able to get to some of the actual rules.

After a long voyage the Mayflower arrived on the shores of the New World. With the Pilgrims came English parliamentary procedure. As these new inhabitants began settling, each new community would rely on people’s memories of the complex English parliamentary law.  Colonies were developing and each place had a different set of settlers with of course a slightly different take on the motherland’s rules. Fast forward to the Continental Congress. The colonies got together and no one had the same laws. (Yikes!) Thomas Jefferson began in 1801 to end the confusing state of affairs. He wrote the Manual of Parliamentary Practice which was then adopted by the House and Senate. However, Jefferson’s Manual was too complex for the average citizen and all the organizations forming in America. About 75 years later, here marches in General Henry Martyn Robert. He put together a book of rules for non-legislative organizations. So, pull out your white, long, curly wig, robe, and gavel and implement the Robert’s Rules of Order at your next board meeting.gavel

You deserve a pat on the back because you probably already know a lot of the basic Robert’s Rules of Order. Just in case you want to quiz yourself, here they are:

  • All members are equal and their rights are equal
  • A quorum must be present to do business
  • The majority rules, but the rights of individual, minority, and absent members are protected
  • Silence is consent
  • Two-thirds vote rule
  • One question at a time and one speaker at a time
  • Debatable motions must receive full debate
  • Once a question is decided, it is not in order to bring up the same motion or one essentially like it at the same meeting
  • Personal remarks in debate are always out of order
  • Promote courtesy, justice, impartiality, and equality

The presiding officer or chair is the person responsible for maintaining order throughout the entire meeting in the most expedient and impartial manner as possible. Below are a few of the board chair’s duties.

  • Be on time and start on time
  • Be organized
  • Be prepared
  • Be a teacher
  • Be in control of the floor
  • Be composed
  • Be precise
  • Be focused

According to Robert’s Rules of Order there is an accepted order of business or standard order of business. Here it is simplified:

  1. Call to order (president or chair)
  2. Minutes of the previous meeting are read and approved
  3. Reports of officers, boards, and standing committees are read and approved
  4. The reports of special committees are heard
  5. Any special orders are presented
  6. Unfinished business and general orders are discussed
  7. New business is discussed (if applicable)
  8. Call to adjourn

Lastly in this post, below are notes on how to make a motion as outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order.

  1. Member address the chair
  2. Chair gives member the floor
  3. Member states the motion (includes who, what, where, and when and in the positive)
  4. Another member seconds the motion
  5. The chair restates the motion and places it before the assembly
  6. Members have the right to debate the motion
  7. Once the discussion has finished, the chair puts the motion to a vote
  8. The chair announces the vote and who will carry out the action if adopted

For additional resources on Robert’s Rules of Order check out PCNRC’s past 23@4 program here.

With an Allen County Public Library card you can check out any one of the Robert’s Rules of Order books. Below is a sample.

Webster’s New World Robert’s Rules of Order: Simplified and Applied by Robert McConnell Productions

Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief by Henry M. Robert III, et. all

Robert’s Rules in Plain English by Doris P. Zimmerman

1 Zimmerman, Doris P. Robert’s Rules in Plain English. New York: HarperPerennial, 1997. Print.
Robert McConnell productions. Webster’s New World Robert’s Rules of Order: Simplified and Applied. Boston: Hougton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Print.

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