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Meetings Procedure

Let Parliamentary Procedure Help Maximise the Effectiveness of Your Business Meetings

By Elizabeth Jordan and Larry Lyons, Toastmasters International

Did the most recent meetings have a clear sent of purpose? Were they kept to time? And did the Chair keep control throughout? There is a good chance that you’ll answer ‘No’ to at least one of these questions, if not all of them.

An article in HBR entitled ‘Stop the Madness’ (1) reported survey results that supports the widespread dissatisfaction with business meetings. Of the 182 senior managers who were surveyed across a range of industries, 65% said meetings kept them from completing their own work. 71% said meetings were unproductive and inefficient. 64% said meetings came at the expense of deep thinking and 62% said meetings missed opportunities to bring the team closer together.  

However, since meetings are the mechanism by which decisions are made and information is shared by millions of people daily, it is important that the people who attend consider ways to make them more productive and value-adding.  

A key approach to improving meetings

One approach to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of everyday meetings and to boosting attendee satisfaction is to apply parliamentary procedure, specifically Robert’s Rules of Order (3). 

The book of Robert’s Rules of Order was first written in 1876 by Henry Martyn Robert to address the chaos he observed at many of the meetings he attended. The most widely used version of his book today is “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised”, which has been updated multiple times since its original publication. 

Robert’s Rules of Order describes the set of rules and codes that provide a structured framework for managing discussions, making decisions, and ensuring orderly conduct during meetings. With this systematic approach to conducting meetings, decisions are reached democratically, and desired objectives are achieved. 

This article provides four tips on how the application of parliamentary procedure, based on Robert’s Rules of Order, can help to improve everyday meetings. 

Select your Chair with care

In parliamentary procedure, the role of the chair or facilitator, is pivotal to the success of the meeting. The chair should command the respect of the meeting and be seen to be fair to all. For example, calling people wishing to speak by their name, and allowing each person the same length of time to speak. By making sure the discussion is relevant to the topic in question, and ensuring the meeting stays on track.  Another important role of the chair is in summarising what has been discussed at the end of each specific topic to ensure that everyone is given the same information regarding any decision that has been taken and the next steps to follow. This avoids the well-known problem of people leaving the meeting unsure of its purpose and what is required of them. 

Make the agenda central 

Under Roberts Rules of Order an agenda is considered essential to provide a clear structure for conducting meetings. A draft agenda should be circulated in advance of every meeting and be adopted’ at the start of the meeting. ‘Adopting the agenda’ sends a strong signal that attendees buy into the meeting and are ready to participate.  The items on the agenda are then followed in a systematic manner, with each item addressed and discussed before moving on to the next one. This avoids the discussion becoming derailed and promotes a focused approach to the meeting. This, in turn, decreases the likelihood of important matters being overlooked. In fact, there are some people who feel strongly that without an agenda, there is no point attending a meeting, often summarised as: ‘No agenda, No attenda’ (2).

Hold and direct an orderly discussion 

There are times during meetings when the loud extrovert voices may dominate the discussion and exclude quieter more introverted members. Parliamentary Procedure offers a solution to this common problem. It provides a process by which the discussion takes place in an orderly manner. A person wishing to speak has to first address the chair, and the chair then has to call the person by name and invite them to speak, this respectful interchange helps to set the tone for an orderly discussion. In this way members, one after another, have a chance to express their opinion without interruption, leading to a more positive and productive discussion and decision making. Roberts Rules of Order also allow for people to challenge the chair (politely) if it is felt that the correct procedures are not being followed. It also allows for people to request work to be sent to a committee, adjourn the meeting and much more. This makes for an orderly and productive meeting using an established framework. 

Use tools for time management 

One of the major complaints about meetings is that most run over the allotted time. Robert’s Rules of Order offers opportunities to overcome this problem in many ways.  The use of a process known as ‘unanimous consent’ to expedite non-controversial matters being addressed is a tool that could be used in everyday meetings. For example, the adoption of the agenda, the approval of the meeting minutes, moving a meeting to a new date and time could be dealt with in this manner.  Having the agenda and related documents circulated in advance of the meeting increases the chance that people will arrive prepared and ready to participate ensuring that time is used efficiently.  By enforcing time limits on discussions, people are encouraged to be clear and concise in their presentations. The effect of adhering to these rules is an efficient use of time and more productive meetings.  

Parliamentary Procedures, outlined in Roberts Rules of Order, have offered a time-tested framework for effective and efficient meetings for nearly a hundred and fifty years. In the 21st century where meetings are global, complex and diverse, the framework that Robert’s Rules of Order provides is needed more than ever before. 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Elizabeth Jordan is Director D71, and Larry Lyons is Parliamentarian D71 at Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org

References

  1. Perlow, Leslie A., Hadley Constance Noonan, Eun Eunice, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2017, pp. 62-69
  2. Ross, Hannah (2022), ‘No Agenda, No Meeting. How to create meaningful meetings’. Available at: https://fellow.app/blog/meetings/no-agenda-no-meeting-how-to-create-meaningful-meetings/ (accessed 12 April 2024)
  3. Robert 111 Henry, M, Seabold Daniel, Honemann Daniel, Gerber Shmuel, Balch Thomas, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition Paperback, Hachette Book Group