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Robert’s Rules Of Order Is A Form Of Parliamentary Procedure That Facilitates Board Meeting Efficiency

How Does Robert’s Rules of Order Increase Board Meeting Efficiency?


“There was a lot of talking, but we accomplished little or nothing.” Have you ever left a board meeting feeling that way? Or, perhaps, you left a board meeting that was completely out of control, where a few board members dominated the discussions, and others left the meeting feeling frustrated that they didn’t get a chance to participate. These are the very reasons that Robert’s Rules of Order were created.

Boards generally have a lot of business to address within a relatively short period of time. When board members come to meetings unprepared and the board chair allows members to speak without being recognized, it wastes a lot of valuable meeting time.

In the best-case scenario, board members can count on having a clear agenda, having the appropriate materials before the meeting, and having assurance that all board members will arrive at the meeting having done their due diligence in preparing for the meeting.

Robert’s Rules of Order is a form of parliamentary procedure that facilitates fair and respectful participation by all members, which promotes meeting efficiency — one thing at a time, one person at a time.

Sample Order of Business or Sample Agenda

According to Robert’s Rules of Order, all meetings should begin with a well-planned agenda. The board chair or the board secretary typically plans the agenda with input from all board members. It’s important to understand that the agenda is owned by the members, not the board chair. The agenda provides a roadmap, which is essentially the structure of how the meeting should run.

Following is a basic outline of board meeting protocol:

  1. Call to Order
  2. Roll Call of Members (determine if meets requirements for quorum)
  3. Read minutes of last meeting
  4. Officer reports
  5. Committee reports
  6. New business
  7. Unfinished business
  8. Announcements
  9. Adjournment

Understanding Types of Motions

An organization’s bylaws will typically state whether the board should be using Robert’s Rules of Order or some other meeting protocol.

There are many different types of motions, and each has a specific purpose. All board directors should minimally become familiar with the four most common types of meeting motions, including main motions, subsidiary motions, privileged motions and incidental motions.

A motion is essentially a question for the board to discuss and sometimes to vote on. A board member makes a main motion for the purpose of placing issues before the board for consideration. The member making the motion doesn’t even have to agree with it. Making a motion is the first step in starting a discussion about an issue where the board members can voice their opinions about it and state their agreement or disagreement with it.

The purpose of subsidiary motions is to impact how the board handles a main motion. Subsidiary motions take precedence over main motions, which means that the board must vote on and resolve the subsidiary motions before the main motion.

Board members may ask the board to consider privileged motions at any time during the meeting. The purpose of privileged motions is to bring up important or special matters that aren’t related to the business at hand.

Incidental motions also take precedence over main motions. Their purpose is to provide the means for board members to question procedures relative to other motions.

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Robert’s Rules of Order for Handling a Motion

A motion begins when a board member states, “I move to…”. At that point, another board member can second the motion. If there’s a lull in the room, the board chair may call for a second to the motion. If there’s no second, the motion gets dropped.

In the event that a board member gives the motion a second, the chair will then declare, “It’s been moved and seconded that we… is there any discussion?”

At this point, the motion is officially on the floor and is in front of the board for consideration. The board has two options at this juncture. They can start a debate or head straight into a vote. If a member wishes to start a debate, the member that made the main motion usually begins the discussion with statements in favor of it or in opposition to it.

Board members direct their comments to the board chair. It’s common for board chairs to set a time limit for the debate. Robert’s Rules of Order suggests that the board chair gives everyone a chance to speak before any member is allowed to speak twice. When the discussion winds down or the time limit is up, the board chair calls for a vote. The outcome is determined by the quorum set in the bylaws or by a majority vote if the bylaws aren’t clear on the issue of the quorum.

Handling Public Participation at Open Meetings

Board members should always be aware of the local, state and federal mandates that apply to their organizations. Some organizations are subject to Open Meetings Acts, which means that they must allow members of the public to attend their meetings.

For organizations that fall under this Act, it’s illegal to close meetings to the public, but boards are allowed to institute rules for public speaking that allow them to run an efficient meeting.

To better manage meetings where the public is invited, consider announcing the following rules:

  • Have a sign-up sheet for those who wish to speak
  • Limit the number of speakers: first come, first served
  • Limit the amount of time they can speak — no more than a few minutes
  • Require public speakers to limit their comments to the issues, not individuals
  • Allow the public to make comments, but disallow board members from commenting, debating or responding to the public during public meetings
  • Announce that all speakers must voice their comments and concerns with respect

Having a few ground rules should allow the public to voice their concerns without monopolizing the meeting or getting out of control. If the meeting spirals out of control, most boards have a provision in their bylaws that allows them to clear the room and enter into an executive session.

Because board directors don’t typically interact publicly with members of the public, speakers will have assurance that the board has heard their concerns when the board establishes a procedure for following up with each speaker.

Using a Board Portal to Enhance Meeting Efficiency

Robert’s Rules of Order is a staple for efficiency at board meetings. A board portal by BoardEffect enhances meeting efficiency even more. A board portal is a secure platform that assists board chairs and board secretaries with electronic processes for streamlining board agendas and meeting minutes. Board administrators can easily create board books online. Last-minute changes are no problem with BoardEffect because the program lets administrators make updates at any time and board directors can get the latest updates in real time.

BoardEffect helps reduce waste by providing boards with an intuitive electronic means to follow board meetings, which means that they also save lots of money on paper and ink.

Robert’s Rules of Order, when combined with a BoardEffect board portal, offers boards the best opportunity for a productive, efficient meeting.

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