Most people who’ve ever served on a board or been a member of a large club have heard of Robert’s Rules of Order, which calls itself “the most widely used reference for meeting procedure and business rules in the English-speaking world.” First written in 1896, there have been eleven editions, and the paperback is as long as 816 pages.
These rules are supposed to make meetings more orderly, more fair, more concise, and geared to help accomplish more in less time.
Many of the basic ideas of Robert’s Rules are often woven into a group’s governing bylaws—things like recognizing a chairperson, quorum, executive sessions, the preparation and availability of agendas and minutes, etc.
We follow Robert’s Rules and we don’t even know it. Fundamental principles found in the book include ideas like having one question discussed at a time; one person, one vote; and a vote being limited to members present.
It’s basic Parliamentary procedure, which considers the rights of the majority, the minority, individual members and all of these groups taken together.
The National Association of Parliamentarians writes:
Parliamentary procedure refers to the rules of democracy—the commonly accepted way in which a group of people come together, present and discuss possible courses of action, and make decisions.
The most recent edition says Robert’s Rules should “enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.”
The book is written like that: Most sentences have to be read a few times. Basically, that last one said, “Lots of people. Every opinion counts. General will be done. As little time as possible.”
Knowing that most groups follow Robert’s Rules to some degree or not, even if it isn’t expressed, I like to introduce a very simplified version of Robert’s Rules for the very basic rules of discussion and meeting.
These are a few basic ideas discussed in Robert’s Rules over dozens of pages, boiled down into a few simple sentences to help facilitate better discussion for everyone, to put us all on the same page.
These shall apply to all board discussions both in person and email:
All comments are addressed to the chair.
To facilitate easier and more orderly discussion, members do not address to one another and discussion goes through the chair.
In order for any discussion to ensue, there must be a motion before the board, and it must be seconded. Discussion is limited to the motion before the board.
During these discussions, offering personal opinions and experiences and advocating for causes and beliefs is encouraged. Personal attacks, abuse language, and disparaging the ideas of others will not be tolerated.
Call the question
At any point during a debate, if half those present agree to end debate and vote, debate is ended and there is a vote.
Having clear, concise, fair rules are important to maintain order and civility, and when simple rules are spelled out, it becomes much easier for everyone to play along– or understand why they are being called out for not doing so.