In order to hold productive meetings, particularly business-critical events such as annual meetings and board meetings, you need a solid and familiar structure. This keeps everyone focused on the common goals and aids the momentum that ensures you get through all the necessary business in the allotted time.
One of the ways to ensure this is to use Robert’s Rules of Order — a set of golden rules for running a successful and effective meeting. It is also known as ‘parliamentary procedure’ and, in fact, was originally based on the way the US Congress ran its legislative process. Henry Martyn Robert first published these meeting guidelines in 1876 and there have been multiple editions since.
To help you apply the procedure in your organisation, we have developed this guide for how to run a meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order. Keep in mind that what we cover below is the standard order of business according to Robert’s Rules.
Before the meeting: Ensure Quorum
What is Quorum?
The quorum is the minimum number of voting members needed in attendance to make a meeting viable. Each organisation should determine their own quorum requirements to suit their situation, based on what they believe to be in their best interest. The general rule is, according to Robert’s Rules, that a quorum should be “as large as can be depended upon for being present at all meetings when the weather is not exceptionally bad.”
The default situation under Robert’s Rules is that a quorum consists of a majority of voting members, but you can include any definition you like in your standing orders. The Rules state that you should always seek a quorum to protect against “totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body by an unduly small number of persons.”
How to Keep a Record of the Quorum
It is the responsibility of the chair to make sure there is a quorum for the meeting. They will remark on this at the beginning and the secretary should note this in the meeting minutes.
What to Do When No Quorum Is Present
If there is no quorum present, there are a number of options to choose from:
|Course of Action||What to Do|
|Motion to Adjourn||Stop the meeting and agree to postpone the business until the next regular meeting.|
|Adjourn to a later date||Adjournment until a time when it will be possible to assemble a quorum.|
|Motion to Recess||Call a short break to allow more members to enter the meeting. This could be because one or more attendees were called away to attend to business and, as a result, there was no longer a quorum.|
|Round up members||Rather than pause, you can take additional measures to achieve the quorum in a privileged motion that means it takes precedence over a motion to recess. Whilst some of the meeting business continues, delegates can round up a number of members to meet the requirements in the company by-laws.|
Run a Meeting according to Robert’s Rules of Order
Once the chair ensures there is a quorum, the meeting can begin. This is how it runs according to Robert’s Rules:
1. Calling the Meeting to Order
The chair welcomes the assembled members to the meeting and begins by officially calling it to order. They should state the date and time, as well as the type of meeting and the company. At this point, they can also state that there is a quorum, welcome new members or visitors, or wish good luck to retiring members and other such announcements.
If you want to learn more about this, check our guide on the procedure for calling a meeting.
2. Reading and Approving the Minutes
Some businesses require an officer to read the previous meeting’s minutes at the next meeting before the members approve them. However, it is a more efficient use of time to distribute minutes in advance, so members can query any errors and the secretary can correct them before the next meeting.
One way to do this is by using a board portal such as iBabs. It enables you to distribute minutes and allows members to collaborate in the cloud, saving time and money. No need to send the corrected documents back and forth.
This means that, at the meeting, the motion to approve the minutes is a simple vote that should be in favour, as everyone has had time to flag any issues before the meeting.
3. Reports of Officers
The president, vice president, secretary and financial officer may give their reports here if they have one. The chair should know in advance who has a report so that the meeting can continue with minimal interruption.
If there is a recommendation in, for example, the treasurer’s report another member should make a motion to adopt it. This should be seconded and then voted on.
4. Board Report
A director should give the board report. If there are recommendations, that director can move to adopt them. They do not need a second, as it was formulated by the board of directors and not just an individual. Members can also make motions based on other information in the report and these should be considered, as well.
5. Committee Reports
The chair of each standing committee with a report to present reads it to the assembly. If it is purely for information, no one needs to take action. If there are recommendations, the reporting member makes the motions with no need for a second, unless the committee consists of just one member. The committee reports go in the order designated in the company constitution.
6. Special Orders
These are agenda items that should be given priority, often because they are time-specific. These agenda priorities are made the order of the day and can be new items or previous items — special orders in a previous meeting that were not discussed. You should start with the unfinished special orders before moving onto the new special orders.
7. Unfinished Business and General Orders
The meeting must deal with all unfinished business before it can move onto the new business. This means that any topics that the last meeting didn’t get round to covering have to be dealt with. It goes in this order of precedence:
- The items that you didn’t reach in the last meeting before the chair adjourned it. These should be in the order in which they appeared in the previous meeting’s agenda.
- Items on the unfinished business list from the last meeting, which you did not reach.
- Any general order item from the previous meeting. General orders are those that someone motions to postpone until a later meeting.
8. New Business
Once you have finished the old business, you can move onto new items of business on the meeting agenda. Anything that you do not manage to cover becomes unfinished business in the next meeting.
9. Adjourning the Meeting
When the time comes to close the meeting, the chair asks if there is any other business and, if there are no objections from the participants, adjourns the meeting.
Presenting a Motion
The main framework behind Robert’s Rules of Order is that every member has equal rights, privileges and obligations. Any member can make a motion, but must first be recognised by the chair before they can speak. This is an example of how presenting a motion works:
MEMBER: [RISING AND ADDRESSING THE CHAIR] Mister/Madam President.
CHAIR: [ADDRESSES THEM BY NAME OR TITLE TO RECOGNISE THEM]
MEMBER: I move that [MOTION].
ANOTHER MEMBER: I second the motion.
CHAIR: It is moved and seconded that [MOTION]. Is there any debate?
Debating a Motion
If there is a debate to be had, the chair invites the conversation to begin. Each member rises who wishes to speak and must be recognised by the chair before they can take the floor.
Members can speak up to twice on each motion and for a limited time. This is often ten minutes, but it is up to the enterprise to decide on the optimum limit for individual input. You should direct all discussion towards the chair and stick to the topic at hand.
Managing debate is an essential part of chairing a meeting. The chair, as a facilitator of the debate, will, where possible, attempt to alternate between speakers in support and opposition to the motion.
As the debate winds down, the chair calls for the vote, looking for a majority of the entire membership to pass the motion.
There are three main ways of voting on motions. These are:
- Unanimous Consent: The chair asks if there is any opposition to this ballot. If there is none, the motion carries and a unanimous consent resolution is issued. Also known as general consent.
- Voice Vote: The chair asks those in favour to say ‘aye’ and those against to say ‘nay’. If the ayes win, the motion passes. If the nays win, it doesn’t.
- Rising Vote: The chair asks those in favour to stand, then those in opposition to stand. You can also use raised hands to achieve the same effect.
Whether you need a unanimous decision, a simple majority vote or a two-thirds vote depends on the company’s articles and bylaws. The results of the vote are recorded in the minutes.
How do you begin a meeting?
The chair should bang a gavel and declare the meeting open. This should take place on time and the time and date should be noted in the meeting agenda.
How do you accept a motion?
The chair accepts a motion for debate if it has been proposed in the correct manner and seconded by another member. The exceptions come when the motion follows a committee or board report, where more than one person is responsible for recommending that motion. In that case, the reporting officer moves and the debate can begin.
Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised is the go-to resource for meeting management around the world. It gives the clearest and most simple way to conduct meetings that allow everyone to contribute and have their say. Using such a familiar structure for your organisation also helps board members who may serve on the boards of multiple firms understand immediately what is happening. We hope this guide on how to run a meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order will help you plan the most productive meetings possible.