Robert’s Rules of Order: What They Are and Why They’re Still Relevant Today

These parliamentary rules have helped organizations take a democratic, fair approach to meetings for over 100 years. Read this guide to find out how these meeting principles remain relevant in 2020.

“Robert’s Rules of Order”, a time-tested manual for conducting business and public gatherings, was published in 1876 by Henry M. Robert, an American soldier, engineer, and author. The handbook’s main goal was to set out parliamentary rules and procedures that companies and organizations could use as a standardized approach to meetings.

Following Robert’s Rules and its democratic approach has allowed organizations to run effective and orderly meetings while displaying maximum fairness to each member. Even though this process for running meetings is pretty old, it’s still relevant nowadays. Robert’s Rules presents a meeting framework in which every individual within the team has an equal voice in the conversation, which is measured by voting. 

In this guide, Fellow is going to cover the order of an agenda following Robert’s Rules, a detailed description of what should be included under each agenda item, and a cheat sheet for the key terms of these parliamentary rules.

What is the order of an agenda (according to Robert’s Rules)?

1 Call to order

The call to order is the first section of your meeting under Robert’s Rules of Order. This is a fancy way of stating the beginning of a meeting. It’s essentially the opening act of a President or senior member of the team (who is facilitating the session) as they start a meeting with the rest of the group. Typically, the President or facilitator have a scripted agenda to use as they open the meeting. 

2 Roll Call

Roll to call refers to the procedure of calling off the list of attendees and marking who’s in attendance and who couldn’t make it. This is typically the responsibility of the Board Liaison or Clerk. In 2020, we call this person the designated note-taker, or whoever is responsible for taking meeting notes

3 Reading and approval of minutes

This part of the meeting involves the facilitator consulting previous meeting minutes or notes. It’s important that the notes that you’re referring to were sent to your team in advance so that they’ve had some time to review them. The President or the facilitator will ask here if there’s anything that’s been left out, that needs correcting or updating.

The next step would be to make note and take corrections until there aren’t any more changes to be made. If there aren’t any further corrections, the meeting then stands approved, in its corrected version.

4 Reports of officers

Here, your more senior members (or leadership team) will share their reports. This would include the President’s report, the Treasurer’s report, the Executive Director’s report and any other positions of significant influence over the team. In these reports, officers state their recommendations and then move onto motions.

Motions require at least one other person to agree with it, which in Robert’s Rules is referred to as a “second”. Either the motion passes or fails and the recommendation proposed by the officer is adopted or not adopted.

Reports from the leadership team tend to include items of high importance and in this part of the meeting, officers would indicate what has been completed and what is still required of them. 

5 Reports of committees

The same process for the reports of officers is followed here, except that it is the heads of committees, groups or boards within the organization who provide their updates and recommendations here. This would include a Membership Committee Chairman’s Report, followed by Finance Committee Chairman’s Report and then a Convention Committee Report.

The difference from reports of officers is that, if a group or committee has recommendations, the reporting member moves straight to the necessary motion. The motion doesn’t require others in the meeting to support it because the group presenting it is more than one person. If the report gives rise to a motion, it’s entertained at this part of the meeting. Motions don’t require a second here, unless there’s the rare case that your committee is made up of one member. 

6 Standard order of business

The standard order of business, after officers, groups and committees have gone through their reports, are simply the items on the agenda, listed in a prioritized manner. Typically, the agenda items (or order of business) are based on the previous meeting in terms of what has been updated or progressed since the last time these items were discussed. Of course, as projects evolve, more items will be added subsequently.

It’s important that each team member has an active voice in contributing to what will be included in the standard order of business. 

Pro Tip

It’s rare to have a productive conversation when nobody has a plan for what to talk about. Using a meeting management software like Fellow can help your team collaborate on an agenda, prepare materials in advance, and write questions to ask during the meeting.

7 Announcements

As you get closer to the end of the meeting, each member has the opportunity to talk about any important announcements or changes that will affect the business. In this case, announcements are a formal way of giving important updates to the rest of your team members. This could mean giving the group a heads up for a busy week ahead, a new project in the pipeline, or information about what your competitors are up to. 

8 Adjournment 

If there’s no further business to be presented to the board or to be discussed, the meeting is adjourned. This is your formal wrap-up, where you tie up any loose ends and take any questions or comments from your team members. You can also discuss what’s to be expected at the next meeting and the best way that each team member can come prepared, understanding what’s required of them. 

Robert’s Rules of Order: Cheat Sheet 

Because Robert’s Rules are kind of old, some of the terminology seems confusing and irrelevant. But it’s not! We’ve just coined modern adaptations of these words. In this section, we’ll clear up some key terms:

Session:

A session is just another word for a meeting. And in the context of Robert’s Rules, this would include any meeting of a deliberative assembly with a predetermined purpose. 

Quorum:

A quorum is the minimum number of voting team members who need to be in attendance at a meeting where a decision is being made. In Robert’s Rules terminology, this would be the presence of a deliberative board, committee or group for a business decision to be legally transacted. 

Order of business:

The order of business consists of the agenda priorities, or agenda items. Adopting the agenda with the contributions of your teammates allows you to keep your meeting on track in terms of time and topic, so that you can be as efficient as possible. 

Motions:

Motions are when ideas are brought forward to the rest of your team and then these ideas are discussed and considered. Motions (decisions) are the reason meetings take place. This is where as a team, you decide which ideas are going to be implemented. If there isn’t unanimous agreement, a new motion needs to be seconded, meaning at least two people need to find an idea important enough to commit time during the meeting to it’s discussion. According to an article by BoardEffect, you can follow these 6 comprehensive steps for each motion: 

1. Motion: A member rises or raises a hand to signal the chairperson.

2. Second: Another member seconds the motion.

3. Restate motion: The chairperson restates the motion.

4. Debate: The members debate the motion.

5. Vote: The chairperson restates the motion, and then first asks for affirmative votes, and then negative votes.

6. Announce the vote: The chairperson announces the result of the vote and any instructions.

The bottom-line

Robert’s Rules of Order is best-suited for legislative bodies but its principles can be adopted by any organization. This framework for running meetings involves:

Consulting previous meeting minutes

Thinking about items of business that need addressing

Asking members for agenda items

Thinking about other possibilities for agenda topics

Adopting the agenda

Discussing unfinished business and general orders

Approving the minutes 

One of the key takeaways from this set of rules is to give your team members an equal voice when considering ideas and decisions that will affect them.

Using a majority vote on certain decisions works for some organizations but it doesn’t mean that it will work for you and your team. Think about what’s going to be best-suited for you and your team, whether it’s trying a formal, structured (and by the book) Robert’s Rule approach, or just taking some key parts of its principles that will fit well with your team culture and meeting agenda template

Whenever you feel like revisiting a different way to structure your meetings, come back to this guide to use some valuable aspects of Robert’s Rule of Order. If you think this may be an interesting way of doing business, share it with a friend or colleague to see if they agree. It’s always a pleasure seeing you on our blog. Until next time!

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