A meeting, as defined by Robert's Rules of Order, is a single official gathering of the members of an organization in one room, with a quorum present to transact business. The members do not leave the meeting, except for a short recess, until the business has been completed or the chair declares the meeting adjourned. This chapter covers the many types of formal meetings (including conventions and mass meetings) and informal meetings (small board and committee meetings), and it discusses the pros and cons of electronic meetings. It also explains how to manage and evaluate meetings and how to form strategies - and counterstrategies - for meetings.
All meetings, regardless of size or purpose, have some things in common:
A quorum must be present.
Someone is in charge of conducting the meeting.
Someone is responsible for taking the minutes.
Business is conducted according to specific rules that state who can attend, who can participate in the discussion of business, and who can vote.
All members are notified of the meeting's date and time and the purpose for which the meeting is called. The parliamentary term for this procedure is the call to the meeting.
Most organizations have both formal and informal meetings. A formal meeting is one in which the entire membership meets to hear reports of officers, boards, and committees, and to propose business, discuss it, and vote on it. An informal meeting is one in which a small group of the organization meets, in either committee meetings or small boards, to help the organization carry out its goals.
Meeting procedures vary according to the meeting type. The primary difference between formal and informal meetings is the chair's role in the meeting. In formal meetings, the members usually follow strict parliamentary procedures, which means that the chair stands while presiding and while stating a motion and taking the vote. He or she does not participate in the debate unless he or she leaves the chair. Members must rise and be recognized in order to obtain the floor, make motions, and debate. Debate is restricted to ten minutes each time a member speaks unless there is a rule to the contrary, and each member may speak twice to a motion.
In informal meetings, the person presiding is usually seated and takes an active role in making motions, discussing them, and voting on all issues. There are usually no limits on debate, and members can discuss an issue without a formal motion.
Formal meetings range from annual meetings and regular periodic meetings to conventions and mass meetings, plus less-common types such as adjourned (continued), executive, and special meetings and sessions. This section defines each type and explains its particular requirements.
The term annual meeting can refer to two things:
The meeting of a society that has only one meeting a year.
A regular meeting is the periodic meeting of an assembly, which is held weekly, monthly, quarterly, or at similar intervals. The bylaws should state the day of the meeting (for example, "the first Monday of each month"), and the standing rules should state the hour of the meeting (for example, "8:00 p.m."). If an organization meets quarterly or more frequently, main motions can carry over to the next meeting through each of the following procedures:
Postponing a main motion to the next meeting
Referring the motion to a committee
Laying the motion on the table
Reconsidering the motion
If meetings are held semiannually or less often, the organization can carry over a main motion to the next meeting only by referring it to a committee, with instructions to report at the next meeting.
An adjourned meeting is a continuation of a meeting. When an assembly can't finish the business of a regular or special meeting during the designated time of the meeting, it can provide for an adjourned meeting at a time before the next regularly scheduled meeting. The adjourned meeting is established by a motion to fix the time to which to adjourn or by a main motion to adjourn until a specified time. This sets the time (and place if it is not already established) to continue the meeting. In an adjourned meeting, the minutes of the meeting being continued are read first, and then business is taken up where the previous meeting left off.
An executive session is a meeting of an assembly that is closed to all but the members. In some organizations, all meetings are closed. (An example is the lodge system.) In an ordinary assembly, board and committee meetings are usually held in executive session. Other members may be invited to attend when they have important information to share, but they do not have the right to attend unless the bylaws provide for it.
In many organizations, guests can attend meetings in order to observe the business proceedings of the organization. However, members may not want the guests present to hear the discussion at times. In these situations, a member can make a motion to go into executive session. This motion is a privileged motion and is adopted by a majority vote. If the motion is adopted, all nonmembers are requested to leave the meeting, until the members vote to end the executive session.
Business conducted in an executive session is confidential and known only to its members. Members are not supposed to divulge the proceedings of an executive session and can be punished under a disciplinary provision if they violate the secrecy. Anyone who is not a member but is allowed to stay during the executive session (for example an executive director or employee of the organization) is honor-bound not to tell what happened in the executive session. Minutes of an executive session are read and approved only in an executive session.
Most disciplinary action against a member must be held in executive session.
A special meeting (or a called meeting) is a separate meeting of a society held at a time different from the regular meeting. The bylaws must provide guidelines for special meetings. If the organization is incorporated, or if state laws have authority over it, a special meeting provision may be in the corporate charter or the state laws. If an organization's governing documents do not provide for the calling of special meetings, the organization can't hold them.
The bylaws or other governing documents should specify the proper procedures for calling a special meeting, including who can call it, the conditions under which it can be called, and the number of days notice that members must be given. Notice of the time, place, and purpose of the meeting must be sent to all members in advance of the meeting. At a special meeting, members can discuss only the business that was stated in the notification (which is referred to as the call to the meeting). If some emergency business is transacted for which no notice was given, the organization must ratify that business at a regular meeting or at another special meeting.
A session is a series of connected meetings held by a group and devoted to a single order of business or program. Each meeting in a session is scheduled to continue business from the point where it left off in the preceding meeting. Sessions are very common in conventions.
Conventions differ from regular meetings in that they are assemblies of delegates chosen from the units of an organization, which may be scattered over a large geographical area. The delegates are sent as representatives of these units. Usually a convention is held once every year or two and lasts about a week, although it could last longer if necessary, as in a constitutional convention, where the constitution of the organization is being revised or brought into existence.
The voting members at a convention are those who hold proper credentials as delegates or those who in some other way hold membership and voting rights. Before delegates can participate, they must report to the credentials committee.
This committee gives them the necessary documents to enter the convention floor and to participate in the convention business.
Other names sometimes used for conventions are congress, conference, convocation, general assembly, house of delegates, and house of representatives.
Of the various types of conventions, the most common is the convention of an established state or national society. The delegates are chosen by and from the local chapters of the society. Sometimes a convention is called for the purpose of forming a new association of persons to address a common problem or concern. This type of convention is handled like a mass meeting (discussed later in this chapter).
Conventions vary in terms of how often they are held and how long the sessions last. A convention can last anywhere from a day to a week or more. Many conventions are held annually, but some are held less frequently. The variation depends on the size of the organization and the amount of business that needs to be done. The rules relating to a society's convention are stated in the bylaws.
In its bylaws regarding conventions, a state, regional, or national society should have provisions that do the following:
Authorize a periodic convention.
Define its powers and duties.
Fix the quorum.
Specify the voting members (who can vote and who can't).
Define the qualifications of delegates and alternates, how they are elected, and how many there are.
Explain how the convention should be organized and operated.
The procedures of a convention differ from those of a regular meeting. After opening ceremonies and any presentations, such as inspirational speakers, the first business in order is the report of the credentials committee.
The credentials committee is one of the most important committees in the convention. This committee is responsible for registering the delegates, giving each delegate the proper identification to enter the assembly, and providing the delegates with copies of the program (the order of business) and other information such as times and places of workshops or other meetings.
The credentials committee is the first to report at the convention, and business can't begin without the credentials committee report. This report states the number of delegates in attendance and establishes the membership of the meeting and quorum. At a convention, the quorum is the number of members present. Members present at the beginning of the meeting adopt the credentials committee report, which must be revised and adopted again when new delegates arrive and register. Because delegates continually arrive or leave the convention, the credentials committee report changes and must be voted on as it changes. It takes a majority vote to adopt the credentials committee report. The committee usually reports at the beginning of each meeting within the session and before an important vote if new delegates have registered or delegates have left.
The credentials committee mans the registration table, and its members are present at stated times during the entire convention to register delegates as they arrive or arrange for alternates to replace those delegates who must leave the convention.
The convention adopts standing rules, which a committee on standing rules prepares. These rules contain both parliamentary rules and standing rules for this particular convention. Parliamentary rules may include those that set a time limit on debate (for example, each speaker can speak for three minutes) and establish the voting process (such as members shall use voting cards instead of voice votes or rising votes). There may be standing rules particular to the convention, such as all speakers shall come to the microphones and must wear badges to come into the assembly. The committee drafts these rules, which are presented immediately after the credentials report. The rules may be amended by the assembly and are adopted by a two-thirds vote.
A convention usually adopts its own order of business. This order of business is called the program and specifies when certain issues are to be taken up and when certain events are to occur. The program, or agenda, is developed by the program committee and adopted after the standing rules of the convention. The program chairman presents it as a main motion. It is debatable and amendable and is adopted by a majority vote. After the program is adopted, it takes a two-thirds vote to change it.
Some organizations have a resolutions committee or a reference committee whose basic purpose is to screen all main motions before they are presented to the assembly. The reference committee invites members to an open meeting for the sole purpose of getting the members' input before resolutions or proposed bylaw amendments go to the entire assembly.
In some organizations, a standing committee, such as the bylaws committee, functions as a reference committee. The bylaws committee usually acts as a reference committee to help expedite the amending of bylaws. The bylaws committee can provide an informal setting where members can raise questions, state their objections, or give suggestions for improvement of proposed bylaw changes. The committee can then reevaluate the proposed amendments and make changes that are more acceptable to the membership. Because members have already raised questions and given suggestions to the committee, much time is saved during the regular session when the bylaw amendments are presented. In most cases, the controversial issues can be resolved because the bylaws committee can then propose a compromise amendment during the business meeting.
After the convention finishes its business and program, it adjourns sine die, which means adjournment "without a day." In other words, this particular group of delegates will not meet again. The next convention is a "new" convention where delegates start all over by adopting standing rules and a program. A convention is a complete unit in and of itself, which is why it always adjourns sine die.
A mass meeting is a meeting of an unorganized group. It provides a meeting place and an orderly way to bring people of the same interests and concerns together for the purpose of forming an organization or solving a community problem.
Because a mass meeting has no written rules regarding meeting conduct, some basic parliamentary principles govern it:
The individuals sponsoring the meeting have the right to restrict the discussion and any proposals to the purpose that they have announced.
Those attending have the right to determine the action taken by making motions, debating, and voting on proposals.
The sponsors have the right to keep out of the meeting anyone who is opposed to the purpose or would try to subvert the purpose. (After all, the organizers have invested both time and expense in calling the meeting.)
Those who want to have a mass meeting have a variety of ways that they can notify those interested, such as via telephone or mass mailer, or through media announcements and posters. The call to the meeting should state the purpose of the meeting; the date, time, and place; and who is invited to attend. For example, the meeting may be for residents of a certain neighborhood, registered voters, or those interested in a certain issue.
Like other meetings, a mass meeting must have structure. The people calling the meeting need to prepare an agenda and decide who is going to call the meeting to order; who they want to nominate as a temporary chairman and secretary; who will explain the purpose of the meeting and what the sponsors want to accomplish; and, finally, by which rules they will abide.
Although a mass meeting has no governing documents to provide structure, the basic parliamentary rules of conducting a meeting apply. In Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, specific rules are given for conducting a mass meeting. The following rules are for the first mass meeting that a group calls. If a series of mass meetings is held, those meetings should follow the order of business as outlined in Chapter 2.
The first item of business in a mass meeting is electing a chairman and secretary. When the time arrives for the meeting to begin, the person selected by the meeting organizers to preside calls the meeting to order and requests nominations for a chairman. Those sponsoring the meeting should be ready to nominate a candidate for the office. The nominee can be the person who called the meeting to order. Another way to accomplish this is for the person presiding to immediately nominate the candidate that the sponsors want to be chairman. After the sponsors nominate their candidate, the person presiding asks for nominations from the floor. He or she then takes a voice vote.
After someone (ideally the sponsors' candidate) is elected chairman, the next business in order is to elect a secretary. The sponsors again nominate a candidate for this office and follow the same procedure as electing a chairman. After the election of the secretary, the chairman asks the secretary to read the call to the meeting. The chairman then recognizes the person who is designated to explain the purpose of the meeting.
After the purpose of the meeting is explained, one of the meeting sponsors can propose a resolution or a series of resolutions to accomplish the purpose. Those present are considered members of the assembly and have the right to propose amendments to the resolution or present any other motions that would help expedite the purpose of the meeting. The only motions not allowed are those contrary to the purpose of the meeting, and the chairman has the responsibility to rule those motions out of order. For example, if the meeting is called to oppose the construction of a shopping mall in the neighborhood, it is out of order to propose a motion in favor of the shopping mall.
Here is a word of caution about adjournment: If the assembly needs to have another meeting, the assembly needs to establish the date, time, and place of the meeting prior to adjournment. If members adjourn without adopting a motion to set the time for another meeting, the assembly dissolves and has to start again from the very beginning if another meeting is called.
A mass meeting can be used to bring an organization into being. The procedures are the same as those explained in the "Conducting a mass meeting" section, except for the following:
The chairman and secretary elected are considered chairman pro tem and secretary pro tem, and they serve until permanent officers are elected. Pro tem means "for the time being."
A motion must be presented to establish the organization.
A bylaws committee is appointed to draft bylaws for the new organization.
A time and a place are set for the next meeting, the purpose of which is to consider the proposed bylaws.
After the bylaws are adopted at the next meeting, the members recess in order to enroll the members.
After the membership is established, permanent officers are elected.
Informal meetings are specifically designed for boards and committees whose membership is under 12. They are called "informal" because the rules are less formal than rules for larger bodies. The person presiding is usually seated and can make motions, discuss motions, and vote on motions. The members do not have to rise to address the chair, and members can often discuss ideas before they make a motion. However, even though an informal meeting has a more relaxed approach, members should still follow an agenda and limit discussion to the subject of the meeting. If these techniques are not practiced, time is wasted and things do not get accomplished. The two most common types of informal meetings are board and committee meetings.
In board meetings, business is conducted largely the same way as in other deliberative assembly meetings. All boards must transact business in a properly called meeting. For example, members must be notified of the meeting in advance, and a quorum must be present. The secretary keeps the minutes of the board meeting. The minutes are accessible only to members of the board, unless the board votes to release them to the general membership or two-thirds of the general membership votes to have them released and read to all members. At board meetings, the executive committee (if one exists) should report to the board what it has been doing since the last board meeting.
The formality of the rules in board meetings is determined by the size of the board. Robert's Rules of Order sets the dividing line between large and small boards as 12 members. Large boards operate under the same rules as other deliberative assemblies. Small boards can use more relaxed procedures, which differ from the procedures of large boards in several respects. In meetings of small boards:
Members do not have to stand up and obtain the floor before speaking. They can speak while seated.
Motions do not need to be seconded.
Members can speak any number of times, and there is usually no motion to close debate.
Members can discuss a subject while no motion is pending.
When all the members know what they are voting on, having a formal motion before voting is not necessary. (However, for the sake of having a clear record in the minutes of the issue being voted on, putting the discussion in the form of a formal motion before taking a vote is always best. By doing so, there is no question about what everyone is voting on.)
Unless they agree by unanimous consent, members must vote on proposed board actions just like other assemblies. However, a vote can be taken by a show of hands, which is often more convenient than other ways of voting.
The chairman doesn't have to stand up to put a question to a vote.
The chairman can enter into the discussion and usually remains seated while conducting the meeting. He or she usually makes motions and votes (unless board custom dictates otherwise).
If a board meeting ever disintegrates into chaos, or a lack of order prevents business from being accomplished, a wise presiding officer returns to the formal rules of conducting a meeting and advises the members that parliamentary rules are in place. (Examples of parliamentary rules are getting recognition from the chair before speaking, making a main motion before beginning to speak, observing the formal rules of debate, and stating the question before taking the vote.)
The chairman (or the first member named to a new committee, who usually acts as the chairman) is responsible for calling together the committee. This means that he or she sets the time, date, and place of the meeting and notifies all the committee members. The chairman can be appointed by the presiding officer of the assembly or can be elected by the committee.
If for any reason the chairman won't call a committee meeting, two members can call the committee meeting. A quorum is a majority of the committee's total membership.
The rules in a committee meeting are the same as those specified for small boards. The chairman usually acts as the secretary of a small committee. In a large committee, someone else is usually chosen to act as the secretary.
Committees operate under the same bylaws, parliamentary authority, standing rules, and special rules that govern the organization creating the committee. Committees do not make their own rules (except when authorized by a higher authority - the bylaws or the assembly - to do so).
The chairman of a committee plays a very active role in the committee. He or she can make motions, debate, and vote in the committee. Because debate is not limited in a committee, it can continue as long as necessary to reach an acceptable conclusion.
A committee doesn't really decide anything (unless it has been given power by the assembly to make certain specific decisions). Usually a committee just makes recommendations, which are then discussed and voted on by the parent assembly. (The committee is basically a "child" of the organization that created it.)
Should the committee wish to take action beyond the scope of its powers, it can report to the assembly that it seeks empowerment to do so. If the assembly assents, it can empower the committee to take the action requested.
When committees are about to decide on an important issue, they should invite members of the organization to appear and offer their views on the subject being discussed. They can also invite nonmembers who have expertise in the subject. This is called a hearing. After everyone who has an interest in the proceedings has been heard, the committee deliberates privately. During committee deliberations, only committee members have the right to be present. Any vote taken to decide the will of the committee, including information to include in committee reports, requires a majority vote.
In a committee, the motion to reconsider the vote in committee allows members to revisit an issue that has been voted on. This procedure is handled differently than in regular meetings of assemblies. In a committee:
Members can make and take up the motion to reconsider any number of times. Also, there is no limit on the amount of time that has elapsed since the original motion was considered and voted on.
Any member who did not vote on the losing side can make the motion to reconsider in committee. This means that the person could have been absent or abstained when the committee originally took the vote.
A two-thirds vote is required to adopt the motion to reconsider in committee, unless all the members who voted on the prevailing side are present or have been notified, in which case a majority suffices.
Many organizations today have officers and members scattered across the globe and choose to conduct meetings via the telephone, e-mail, or videoconferencing. Remember that the reason organizations have meetings is so members can hear about issues, respond to what others are saying, and give suggestions to evaluate them all at the same time. Telephone and video conferencing meetings allow members the means to accomplish these goals. If members want to hold telephone or video conferencing meetings, the bylaws must include a special provision. Members should adopt rules of order concerning basic parliamentary procedure about how to obtain the floor, make motions, and handle the debate in telephone and video conferencing meetings.
However, meeting via e-mail or electronic chat room does not allow members to fully participate in the democratic process. Many organizations today try this approach to meetings and find that it creates confusion rather than order. They have difficulty keeping order, having members understand where they are in the process, and getting business done.
E-mail is quickly replacing many other forms of communication. Many people find it a fast, inexpensive way to inform and communicate with others. However, because of its convenience, a temptation of e-mail is for some disgruntled officer or member to e-mail everyone with their concerns, or even a resignation, and then later have to withdraw the resignation or apologize for off-the-cuff remarks. Another problem is that members send e-mail messages intended only for boards and committee members to those who are not members of the boards or committees. Because the information is shared with the members in general before any decision is made, this can cause dissension in the organization.
E-mail is a quick way to get announcements, agendas, committee reports, and minutes to members. However, e-mail is not always effective when used during a decision-making process. Some e-mails get read immediately, and some don't. Occasionally, e-mail is not delivered to the proper recipient, or it is not delivered at all.
One problem with deciding an issue by e-mail is that members often respond to the remarks of one member at a time, instead of responding to all of them at once. Plus, two or more members may be typing a response at the same time, and if conflicting responses to an issue are sent simultaneously, it can be difficult to determine the response from which to work.
Often the entire group becomes confused with who said what, who responded to what, and what was finally decided. As a result, organizations must still have a standard meeting to get everything sorted out. What begins as a potential timesaver can result in wasting a lot of time. If the members were in a room together, they would all hear the discussion at the same time, know who is speaking and what side they are on, and know the outcome of a vote. Because there is not much order in electronic meetings, essential elements of democracy are sidestepped (see Chapter 1).
E-mail meetings may be helpful for organizations whose members are scattered, but it should not be used as a medium for decision-making in organizations whose members can easily meet in person. For this reason, the organization's rules should clearly define any use of e-mail.
Until someone designs a good computer program for having online meetings, using e-mail for sharing newsletters or factual information or for correcting the minutes is best. If members want to use e-mail for official notification of meetings, the bylaws should contain this information, but keep in mind that not everyone has a computer or Internet access.
Every organization has goals that it wants to accomplish, which require that its members work together. But anyone who works with a group knows that one of two things generally happens: either one person in the group is willing to do all the work, so it gets done; or a meeting is called about the work to be done, which leads only to more meetings. Many people are being "meeting-ed" to death these days, and the meetings don't accomplish all that they should.
Is there a way to solve the meeting dilemma but still preserve democracy and not waste everyone's time? Yes, through meeting management. Many of the techniques previously explained in this resource, such as preparing and following an agenda, rotating debate and keeping debate within its limits, and insisting that members keep to the topic at hand are elements of meeting management.
The following suggestions apply mainly to informal meeting settings, such as board and committee meetings, where organizations waste the most time because people don't stay on the subject. Often a committee meeting turns into a social event, or the members get sidetracked by discussing or deciding something that is not within the scope of the meeting or the duties of the committee or board.
Here are some helpful techniques for managing a meeting so that you can accomplish what you set out to do in an efficient, timely manner:
Don't have a meeting if you can accomplish the objective some other way. Perhaps phone calls, e-mails, faxes, or letters will suffice.
If you need to meet, minimize attendees and time spent. Only call those people who really need to be there. Give attendees as much notice as possible. Include time, place, start and end times, subject, and agenda in the call of the meeting. If visual aids are needed (charts, videos, overheads, and so on), set them up well in advance and test to ensure that they function properly.
Start the meeting on time. Don't allow latecomers to waste the time of those who arrive promptly.
Allot a reasonable amount of time to accomplish the meeting's objectives and stick to the schedule. Follow the agenda to cover each item as quickly as possible. Don't allow discussion to get off the subject of the agenda.
Have someone take minutes or notes on what the committee or group decides to do. The chairman should keep a list of assignments and target dates for action. In recurring meetings, discuss issues from previous meetings and give progress reports.
Before ending the meeting, have the recorder summarize plans that were agreed upon as well as target dates. End the meeting on time.
Know what your responsibility and authority is in the meeting. This should be stated in the bylaws. Be sure that you have the authority to make decisions about the issues being discussed at the meeting. Foresee what is likely to happen in the meeting and prepare for it.
Use committees. Delegate responsibility and work to smaller groups. If you are the chair of a committee, break up the work among the members. A wise meeting manager uses committees to get a lot of work accomplished for the organization.
When giving directions or assigning tasks to others, make sure that they understand what they are expected to do and when it is to be done.
Make sure that the leader of the meeting does what a leader is supposed to do: He or she should know the agenda items as well as what decisions and action plans are going to be proposed. The leader should be impartial but have the facts surrounding any proposed action plans. The leader should allow debate on the agenda items but make sure that discussion sticks to the agenda and doesn't wander and waste time on irrelevant issues. The leader should follow the agenda and keep the meeting moving.
Use general consent instead of a vote on noncontroversial issues, such as:
Approving the minutes of the previous meeting
Considering reports and recommendations
To determine if general consent is possible, the chairman says, "If there is no objection, we will do . . . ." If no one objects, the action can be done in the name of the organization. The chairman says, "Hearing no objection, we will do . . . ."
Can a business use these same techniques at the office? Can a knowledge of democratic principles and formal rules and procedures help in conducting meetings in the business world? Most definitely yes! Incorporating meeting management techniques and the basic principles of parliamentary procedure in business meetings saves time, encourages input from all the participants, and gives structure to the meeting.
The basic principle of taking up one item of business at a time is applicable in any meeting. The person planning or facilitating the meeting should have an agenda or a list (arranged in the order of priority) of things to accomplish at the meeting. Everyone attending the meeting should receive a copy of the agenda.
The principle of impartiality is also applicable. The key question the meeting planner should ask is, "Do I really want the ideas of others, or do I just want to tell them what to do?" How the meeting planner answers this question determines how the meeting proceeds.
If the person conducting the meeting really wants the input of employees or colleagues, he or she will be impartial - refraining from passing judgment on what is said and allowing all to speak. In this kind of meeting, it is important to alternate the discussion in order to bring out the best ideas. The meeting leader will not allow one person or a small group of people to dominate the discussion; he or she also solicits opinions from those who are not participating in the discussion.
Here are some other important points to remember when conducting a meeting:
When calling the meeting, explain its purpose and what you hope to accomplish. An example may be "how to cut down the time between when an order is received and when it is shipped."
Include in the meeting all the people involved in solving the problem.
Set a meeting time and place that is convenient for all attendees.
If several departments in a large organization are involved, have the meeting in a neutral place and choose a facilitator who is impartial.
Prepare for the meeting. Gather information in advance and send it to those who will attend. Ask them to consider the information and to come with solutions.
Start and end the meeting on time. If more work needs to be done, set another meeting and encourage the members to continue thinking about solutions.
The most effective meetings in the business world are those in which employees know that their ideas are taken seriously and implemented. When employers call meetings just to talk at their employees, no one takes these meetings seriously, and everyone will make excuses not to attend.
Another factor of meeting management is the meeting room itself. Check the obvious factors in advance. For example, is the room large enough to seat the group comfortably? It should not be too large or too small. Is it temperature-controlled so that the members won't get too hot or too cold? Is it quiet enough for the audience to hear the speakers and the leaders? Does it have audio and video equipment, overhead projectors, computers, or whatever else speakers may need to present their information?
Does the room have a properly functioning public address system (if needed)? Are there enough exits into and out of the room for safety, but not so many that the organization can't control admission? Are there enough tables and chairs? Check all these matters in advance to ensure that the room is properly prepared.
The seating arrangement can facilitate the meeting. For smaller meetings (fewer than 30 people), some experts suggest that circular or semicircular seating helps focus the members' attention on the leader and on each other. This arrangement is good for promoting interaction. The circular seating pattern fosters a sense of equality (like the Knights of the Round Table). Although it is good for intense face-to-face interaction, it may not be good for problem solving. When using the semi-circle, make sure that the door to the room is at the bottom of the U so that meeting participants are not distracted by persons coming and going. The diameter of the semicircle should be about 15 feet for a 15-person meeting. If there are more than 15 people, set up a second row of chairs. This way everyone can easily see each other, the leader, and any visual aids at the front of the room.
No matter what seating arrangement you choose, encourage people to sit close together. Sitting close together promotes a feeling of group cohesiveness. If you know that someone has left the meeting and will not return, take away the empty chair and move the group together to fill the empty space. Avoid empty spaces because they suggest something missing or a vacuum - psychologically negative suggestions for a group that is trying to accomplish something together.
After a meeting, evaluate what happened so that you can plan better meetings in the future. The following checklist helps you identify mistakes and avoid future ones:
Was a detailed meeting agenda provided so that everyone knew what was supposed to happen?
Did everyone receive sufficient notice of the meeting so they could plan to attend?
Did the presiding officer follow the agenda?
Did the chairman announce the results of the votes and the effect that the votes would have?
Did the chairman keep the discussion on track? Or, did members raise and discuss unrelated issues?
Was there adequate time to conduct the business on the agenda?
Did members listen to the discussion and wait their turn to speak? Or, was crosstalk allowed to disrupt and distract the business at hand?
Did the members and the chairman follow the rules of parliamentary procedure? Or did they make up the rules as they went along?
Did the chair allow the speakers to make their statements? (The chair should interrupt only to call the meeting to order, to call time, or to redirect the discussion to the business at hand.)
Did everyone speak and participate? Or was discussion dominated by one, two, or a few members?
Did the chairman enter the discussion without stepping down from the chair? Did the chairman try to railroad an issue or stifle discussion on an issue?
Were any decisions made in haste and without sufficient consideration?
When a decision was made, were there clear instructions regarding what was to be done, who was to do it, when they were to complete it, and when they were to report back to the organization?
Were any hidden agendas at work in the discussion?
Was there discord in the meeting? Was it resolved? If so, how was it resolved?
Did the members see alternative courses of action? Were any presented?
Did all members participate in the discussion? If some didn't, did the chairman try to bring them into the discussion? If they still didn't participate, did anyone try to find out why?
Regarding committee reports, did committees report on what they had done rather than what they were going to do?
Was the room comfortable for the meeting? Or was it too hot, too cold, too large, too small, too noisy, too bereft of chairs or tables, or deficient in any other way?
Was the seating arrangement appropriate for the meeting?
Did the audio and video equipment (if any) operate properly?
Were there any other problems that could be identified and corrected in future meetings?
This section offers plans of action for either adopting a motion or defeating a motion while preserving the highest ideal of democratic proceedings in meetings. Although the word strategy has a favorable definition - a careful plan or method to achieve a goal - it can also connote a plan of action to defeat an enemy by trickery.
The intent of this discussion is not subterfuge but information. This section describes the procedure or procedures that counteract any motion presented in a meeting. There are always two sides (sometimes many sides) to each issue, and if one group prevails by subverting the democratic process and preventing the other side(s) from being heard, the action is doomed to fail. Often such action leads to the breaking up of the organization. However, each side of an issue has the right to use parliamentary procedures in a fair, just, and honest way to obtain its goal.
Here is a word of advice from Henry Robert:
Where there is radical difference of opinion in an organization, one side must yield. The great lesson for democracies to learn is for the majority to give to the minority a full, free opportunity to present their side of the case, and then for the minority, having failed to win a majority to their views, gracefully to submit and to recognize the action as that of the entire organization, and cheerfully to assist in carrying it out, until they can secure its repeal.
All members should know fully the rules of procedure, their rights as members, and how to protect those rights. Remember that if an opposition sleeps on its rights, it may be too late to correct the action. Therefore, members must pay attention to what is happening in the meeting and point out to the chair and the assembly any mistakes when they happen - not after the meeting has adjourned and everyone has gone home.
When organizations have to consider a controversial issue, both sides commonly come to the meeting with a plan to achieve their goals. If the organization is divided on the issue and the presentation of the debate was equal, usually the side having the best understanding of parliamentary procedure wins. Therefore, all members should understand the types of strategies and how to counter each one.
There are several types of meeting strategies: those necessary to adopt, delay, or defeat an action; to bring a compromise; and to change an action.
One of the most important strategies is to come prepared for the meeting. The person who will make the motion should already be assigned and rehearsed, have the motion carefully worded, and be prepared for the debate. During rehearsal for debate, ask someone to play devil's advocate so that members can counter the opposition's objections. Plan what you will do when motions are made to defeat the proposed action; if possible, work with a parliamentarian. The same advice goes for those opposing the action.
If you are the person who has to preside during a controversy, think about all the situations and motions that can arise, and prepare for them. Be ready to keep order and handle points of order and appeals from the decision of the chair. Seek advice from a parliamentarian before the meeting and, if possible, hire a parliamentarian to help you during the meeting.
Often a proposed action comes from a committee or the board of an organization. If this is the case, the great advantage is that the proposal comes from an official organ of the organization. In the eyes of the membership, such a proposal usually carries more authority than if an individual member makes the motion. There is also more than one person supporting the idea. The other advantage is that in presenting the idea to the members, the committee or board gives a report explaining the whys and wherefores of the motion. The committee can meet many objections in the report by providing enough information. The other advantage that a board or committee has is the ability to give to the assembly written information attached to the agenda or sent out with the call to the meeting.
An individual presenting a motion isn't able to give a report or attach printed materials to the agenda without the permission of the assembly. Nor is an individual likely to have a small group of supporters already in favor of the action. However, one way to get more information to the group about the motion is to present it in the form of a resolution. In this form, the preamble can state the reason for the proposed action.
A defensive strategy in adopting a motion is to watch for those who may try to shut off debate prematurely, or those who try to kill a motion by laying it on the table instead of making the motion to postpone indefinitely. During the meeting, if you feel that you are losing ground or you need to consult with others, make a motion to recess. If the members seem to need more time to think about the motion, or the committee needs to gather more facts, use a delaying strategy.
Delaying an action is sometimes the wisest move to make. There are two ways to delay an action: first by referring the motion to a committee and second by postponing it to a later time. (Sometimes the motion to reconsider the vote delays the action if this motion is not taken up at the meeting but is called up at the next meeting.)
A delaying strategy is helpful if a member makes a motion that no one is prepared to discuss or has even thought about. In this instance, the motion to postpone to the next meeting enables the members to gather information, formulate their reasons pro or con, and get the absent members to attend the next meeting. In cases where the members are uncertain because they don't have enough information, or when they want to know how the details are going to be worked out, it is best not to push for a decision at that meeting but to make a motion to refer to a committee.
Members don't always agree, and those who oppose an action have the right to try to defeat it. The most obvious ways to defeat an action are to:
Debate against it.
Postpone it indefinitely.
Postpone it to another meeting, hoping that members can gather more support to vote against it.
However, if something detrimental to the organization or a member is proposed, the wisest action is to object to consideration of the question immediately after the chairman states it. This motion should seldom be used, and only when something would truly harm the organization even to discuss it. (For information on making this motion, see Chapter 9.)
An alternative to defeating a motion is to compromise. Very rarely is an issue a yes or no question. Most issues are negotiable and can be resolved through discussing, carefully listening to others, and then using the amending process. For example, say that the membership is divided about the time of the meetings. Group A wants the meetings changed to an earlier time, but Group B wants to keep the current time. After much discussion and proposing of amendments, the members vote on a time that neither one really wants but that is between the current meeting time and Group A's suggestion. It is a compromise that everyone can accept.
Besides the strategies already discussed, there are others that an organization can use to effectively change an action, correct a mistake, cool down tempers, keep a motion alive, or deal with various situations arising in a meeting:
A point of order: A point of order can correct a multitude of errors. If the chair does not correct a serious mistake in a meeting, a member can raise a point of order. Members should use this motion only when a serious mistake has been made in the meeting; for example, when members' rights are being taken away. The chair always rules on the point of order before proceeding with any further discussion or motions. If a member does not agree with the chair's ruling, he or she should appeal the decision of the chair.
Parliamentary inquiry: If a member realizes that the assembly doesn't understand what is going on, he or she can rise to parliamentary inquiry, which he or she can do at any time. This is not considered debate, so the member can make it while a nondebatable question is pending. This action may help, for example, when someone has moved the previous question to try to cut off a member's right to debate. A member can rise and ask the chair what will happen if the members vote for the previous question.
Point of information: A member can raise a point of information anytime during debate to ask for factual information. It is not considered debate, so a member can lead the discussion without debating by asking all the right questions.
Motion to recess: A motion to recess can help cool things off in debate or can provide time to plan strategies with those who are of like mind. Or, it can buy time to call in additional support from members not present. If someone moves the previous question early in debate, a motion to recess can rally votes to stop this motion. If things aren't going your way, move to take a recess.
Move the previous question: When nothing new is being said but debate is lingering, make the motion to stop debate by saying "I move the previous question." If adopted, this closes debate and brings the motion to a vote.
Lay the pending motion on the table: If there is a motion being debated on the floor and a member needs to leave the meeting early but wants to make a motion before leaving, he or she can move to lay the pending motion on the table. If adopted, the pending motion will be temporarily laid aside and the member can now make the new motion. Once this issue is decided, someone can move to take the original motion from the table. If the motion is adopted, the assembly proceeds with the meeting where it left off.
Postpone to later in the meeting: If a motion is being discussed and a member who has important information about the subject has not arrived, a member can move to postpone the motion to later in the meeting.
Or, if a member is not at the meeting but another member knows that the member would come to the meeting with a simple telephone call, he or she can make a motion to recess. During the recess, this person can call the member and find out when the member will arrive at the meeting. He or she can then make the motion to postpone until later in the meeting to give the member time to arrive. If the member can't make the meeting, another member can make a motion to postpone the vote to the next meeting.
Reconsider and enter on the minutes: When a temporary majority resulting from an unrepresented attendance at the meeting pushes through a motion that many absent members would have opposed, the best strategy is to vote on the prevailing side and then move to reconsider and enter on the minutes (see Chapter 17.) This motion needs a second. It stops all action on the motion, which members can bring up only at the next meeting. The call letter for the next meeting must include a notice about this motion.
Fix the time to which to adjourn: If members want to go home but important business still needs to be discussed which may die if the meeting adjourned because of a time element, set the time for an adjourned meeting. To do this, make the motion to fix the time to which to adjourn. Set the hour, date, and place for the meeting. You can then make the motion to adjourn. At an adjourned meeting, business is taken up where the members stopped at adjournment.
Consider the intent of a motion: When a motion is not worded in proper parliamentary terms, consider the intent of the motion. For example, a member may move to table something to the next meeting. This is really the motion to postpone to the next meeting. If the chair places it before the assembly as the motion to lay on the table, a member should raise a point of order because it is taking away the members' right to debate, and it only requires a majority vote. Another example is if a member makes a motion that would, in effect, rescind something previously adopted where no previous notice was given. Alert members will point out that the vote needed to adopt this motion is a two-thirds vote or a majority of the entire membership. By understanding intent, the membership knows the proper rules governing any situation.
If a voice vote is taken and a member feels that the vote is not decisive, he or she should call for a division. The chair must retake the vote by asking the members to rise. If a question is controversial and a member thinks having a secret vote would deliver the most honest and representative vote, he or she should move to take the vote by ballot. This motion needs a second, is not debatable, and requires a majority vote.
When you don't understand what is going on in a meeting or you've gotten lost in the procedures, the best strategy is to ask the chair by rising to a parliamentary inquiry. If more members use this tool, organizations can prevent much misunderstanding in meetings.
Another way to use a parliamentary inquiry is to ask the chair if it is in order to do something. The chair's duty is to assist the members in presenting business.
Still another way of asking for help in a meeting is by requesting a point of information. If you want more facts about the subject being discussed or don't understand what someone has just said, ask. For example, a member may say,
Member: Mr. Chairman, I rise to a point of information.
Did I understand the previous speaker to say . . . ?
Be assured that if you didn't understand something or are lost in the procedures of a meeting, others are probably having the same problem.
Members can often stop illegal actions before they occur in a main motion by remembering these points:
A main motion can't conflict with national, state, or local laws. It can't conflict with the bylaws (constitution) or rules of the assembly.
If such a motion is adopted, even by a unanimous vote, it is null and void. If such a motion is made, the presiding officer should rule it out of order. If the presiding officer does not rule it out of order, a member should call a point of order, stating that it conflicts with the existing laws, bylaws, or rules.
Members can't make a motion that presents substantially the same question as a motion that was previously rejected during the same meeting. Members can renew a motion if there is a change in wording or a difference in time or conditions.
However, if a member votes on the prevailing side, he or she can move to reconsider the vote on the motion that was defeated. If the motion to reconsider is adopted, the motion is again before the assembly as if it were never voted on, and the members can amend it or substitute something more to the liking of the membership.
Here's an example: The assembly voted against having a booth at the county fair because no one had the time to man the booth. After some progress in the meeting, a member who voted against the motion comes up with a creative solution, so the member moves to reconsider the vote. The vote is reconsidered, and the motion is now before the assembly again. It is then amended to everyone's satisfaction and adopted.
A motion can't conflict with a motion previously adopted and still in force. However, a member can move to rescind the action or to amend the action (which is called amend something previously adopted>/span>). If an action is rescinded, it is no longer in force.
A main motion can't conflict with, or present substantially the same question as, a motion that is temporarily set aside. For example, if a motion is postponed, laid on the table, or referred to a committee (or if a reconsideration is moved and not taken up), someone can't make a motion that conflicts with the motion that has been temporarily put aside. If such a motion is made, the chair should rule it out of order and state the proper procedure. If the chair does not rule the motion out of order, a member can raise a point of order.
The correct procedures for handling motions that conflict with or present substantially the same question as a motion that has been temporarily set aside are:
If a motion is laid on the table, make the motion to take it from the table.
If a motion has been postponed, move to suspend the rules and take up the motion.
If a motion has been made to reconsider the vote and has not yet been called up, call up the motion to reconsider.
If a motion has been referred to a committee and the committee has not yet reported, move to discharge the committee.
A main motion that proposes action outside the organization's purpose (as defined in the object of the bylaws or corporate charter) can be considered only by a two-thirds vote.
The presiding officer's duty is to ensure that all meetings proceed in a democratic fashion and that all procedures and proposed actions are in accord with the governing documents of the organization and parliamentary rules. Therefore, a presiding officer should be thoroughly familiar with the following:
The bylaws and other governing documents of the organization
The organization's adopted parliamentary authority
The agenda and any controversial issues that may be coming before the assembly
Procedures for presiding, the ranking of motions, and the rules of debate
Should a presiding officer have a meeting strategy? Yes, in the sense that he or she is well prepared to conduct the meeting. An effective presiding officer is thoroughly familiar with the agenda and presides from a meeting script. (See Appendix B for a sample meeting script.) The officer has reviewed different procedures from the organization's parliamentary authority and has consulted beforehand with the parliamentarian about any tricky items that may come up.
The presiding officer's goal should be to expedite business in a timely fashion while still allowing members to present it in a fair manner. He or she should not try to push things through solely to get things done in record time.
Most presiding officers are familiar with the members and know which issues are hot-button issues. When a presiding officer knows that an agenda item is one of those issues, the officer should thoroughly prepare to keep control of the meeting so that it doesn't get out of hand.
Techniques for keeping order in a meeting are:
Read up on how to handle debate and any motions that members may use to block the democratic process, such as previous question, lay on the table, points of order, and appeals from the decision of the chair.
Before debate begins, remind the members of the rules of debate:
The member making the motion has the first right to speak to the motion.
Everyone gets a turn to speak, and debate is alternated between the pros and cons.
Members must rise, address the chair, and be recognized before speaking.
When members know that the chair is impartial and in control of the situation, they are more likely to behave.
If things start to get out of control, declare a recess. If a brawl begins, adjourn the meeting to protect the membership. (You can't adjourn the meeting because you think it is going on too long or because you don't like the members questioning your decisions.)
Know when and how to use general consent in taking a vote, as well as when to assume a motion and take the vote. Instead of waiting for someone to move to pay the bills, say:
President: All those in favor of paying the bills say "Aye." Those opposed say "No." [Announce the vote.]
To vote by general consent, say:
President: Is there any objection to paying the bills? Hearing none, the treasurer will pay the bills.
Keep the meeting going forward! If members don't rise to debate an issue, take a vote. Don't wait for someone to move the previous question. When debate is going on, alternate between those who are in favor and those opposed. Ask:
President: Does anyone want to speak for the motion?
President: Does anyone want to speak against the motion?
If members make substantially the same points, ask:
President: Is there anything new to add to the discussion?
If no one rises to speak, take the vote. Or ask if there is any objection to closing debate and taking a vote. If one person objects to closing debate, you must take a rising vote. If two-thirds of the assembly votes to close debate, you can take a vote on the motion.
The chair should be good at reading the assembly and knowing when they are ready to vote. The chair can use this procedure of closing debate when the members aren't readily rising to debate. By asking "are you ready for the question?" or "is there any objection to closing debate and taking a vote?" the chair tells the members that if they don't rise to discuss the issue further, the chair is taking the vote now.
When handling debate, remember that the member who made the motion has the first right to speak to the motion. Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised, says, "The chair should turn toward the maker of the motion to see if he wishes to be assigned the floor first in debate . . . ." Be watchful in this situation. Many times members who are opposed to a motion will move the previous question as soon as the motion is made in an attempt to force an immediate vote. If this happens, you do not have to entertain the motion previous question because there has been no debate. If the motion at hand is a controversial question, you have an obligation to see that debate is not stopped before the minority has been able to present its side.
Remember to remain impartial and courteous at all times and conduct the meeting in a democratic way. If you feel strongly about an issue, step down and let another officer preside until the vote is taken. (However, this officer must not yet have debated the issue.)
One way to handle this situation is to find someone in the membership who feels the same as you do and have that member speak to the motion. If you know that something is coming up at the meeting, you can give facts and information to that member to present to the membership. By remaining impartial and unbiased, you retain the respect of the members.
If in doubt about why a member has risen and addressed the chair, especially when a nondebatable question is pending, say:
President: For what purpose does the member rise?
You don't have to wait for someone to make the motion to adjourn. If no further business is coming forward, take a vote on adjourning the meeting by saying:
President: Is there further business? [pause] All those in favor of adjourning the meeting, say "Aye." Those opposed say "No." The ayes have it, and the meeting is adjourned.
Or you can say:
President: Is there any objection to adjourning the meeting? [pause] Hearing no objection, the meeting will adjourn. [pause] The meeting is adjourned.
When you anticipate a complicated procedure (such as adopting bylaws) or a series of motions, the most efficient way to conduct the meeting is to instruct the members in the correct procedures for that part of the meeting.