We all know that Robert’s Rules loves some formality and archaic language. But even Robert can be a normal guy sometimes. And for boards that are small, he’s willing to let up a bit on some of the parliamentary procedure rules. He actually uses the word flexibility—imagine that!
If you’re on a board of twelve people or fewer, today’s your day. I’ve got three tips that will save you time in your next meeting, and—of course—they’re based on parliamentary procedure rules that Robert says small boards (and committees!) can ignore.
1. Flip the Motion-Discussion Order
So, here’s the normal flow for taking official action in a group: Recognition → Motion → Second → Discussion → Vote.
But anyone who’s been part of a small group—like a board—knows that the normal process often goes like this instead: Recognition → Discussion → General consensus about an idea and how to move forward → “Oh, wait . . . Do we need a motion for that?” [Pause.] “We need a motion for that, don’t we?” “Probably.” “Who would like to make the motion?” [Another pause.] “Bob, will you? . . . Thanks, Bob.” → Bob makes motion → Someone throws in a second for good measure → Vote.
I hope it’s obvious that the process I just outlined is unnecessarily laborious in a small group, and it slows a meeting down if you have to always work through a formalized motion before discussion. But, here’s the good news—Robert the Rules Guy knows that it’s laborious and says that if your group is small, and everyone knows what you’re discussing, you don’t have to do the motion part first. Just raise an idea, have a robust discussion, and then craft a motion that accomplishes the goal, take a vote, and move on. It’s a timesaver because motion-crafting before discussion can be laborious and frustrating.
And, a caveat: Like just about everything in life, you have to use good judgment here. There are times when the nature of a group or an idea requires formal, well-thought-out, on-the-record language before you start discussion. But there are many times when that’s not the case. Know those times, have a discussion, take a vote, put the action taken in the minutes, and keep the meeting moving.
2. Stop Asking for a Second
Just like with the point above, in a board meeting, often no one thinks to ask for a second until an idea is way down the road of discussion and moving towards a vote. And guess what—it’s okay to proceed without backtracking to get a second. If everyone is clear on what the vote is for, go ahead and take the vote.
Why is this alright? A second just means that more than one person thinks the group should take time to discuss an idea. It’s not any sign of agreement with the idea itself. If you’ve spent twenty minutes discussing something, obviously more than one person thinks the idea is worth the group’s time. So, there’s no need to take a second.
3. Stop Allowing Unproductive Discussion
Small boards are notorious for inefficient discussion. The size of the group and familiarity of the members make it fertile ground for casual, undirected conversation that ends up wasting time. In contrast, well-organized discussion—where one person speaks at a time, people speak in a certain order, and pro and con views are expressed in an alternating fashion—can be a game-changer for your meeting. I’ve given you a head start on how to accomplish that here.
One Final Word
It’s important to know that Robert’s plan in letting certain rules slide for small groups isn’t because he’s pro-slackers or wants to give mini-boards a few parliamentary procedure holidays. The idea is increased efficiency—always a good thing, right? Certain parliamentary procedure rules are simply less necessary with fewer people, and being a stickler about them “for the rules’ sake” can slow a group down.
But, as you think about incorporating these measures into your next meeting, ask yourself, are they really timesavers for this group? If not, go with the method that’s most efficient and protects members’ rights—because that combination is the whole point of parliamentary procedure anyway.