Understanding Robert’s Rules of Order: The Essential Guide to Efficient and Fair Meetings

Robert Rule of Order

As someone who has served as a board member across multiple organizations, I’ve frequently encountered references to Robert’s Rules of Order. This experience sparked my curiosity, particularly as a newcomer myself, eager to understand the intricacies of board meetings and effective decision-making. Recognizing that many newcomers, especially those preparing to take on board roles, might share this curiosity, I delved deeper into the subject. My goal is to demystify Robert’s Rules of Order and make this knowledge accessible to all, especially to those who are new to such roles.

Having navigated the challenges of adapting to new organizational cultures myself, I understand the importance of mentorship and guidance in these settings. My passion lies in mentoring newcomers, assisting immigrants in their journeys, and helping to cultivate future leaders. Through this exploration of Robert’s Rules of Order, I aim to provide valuable insights that will empower and equip aspiring board members, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, to contribute effectively and confidently in their respective organizations.

This endeavor is more than just about understanding a set of rules; it’s about fostering inclusivity, enhancing participation, and building leadership skills. By sharing what I’ve learned about Robert’s Rules of Order, I hope to create a resource that not only clarifies but also inspires and supports those stepping into leadership roles, ensuring they feel more prepared, confident, and valued in their contributions.

Community Organization & its volunteer management

Meetings are a vital part of organizational life, where decisions are made, issues are discussed, and ideas are exchanged. However, without a structured approach, meetings can often become unproductive and chaotic. This is where Robert’s Rules of Order come into play, a set of guidelines designed to facilitate smooth, orderly, and efficient meetings while ensuring fairness and equality in decision-making processes. In this blog post, we’ll delve into what Robert’s Rules of Order are and how they can transform your meetings.

The Genesis of Robert’s Rules of Order

Robert’s Rules of Order were first published in 1876 by Henry Martyn Robert, a U.S. Army officer. Frustrated by the lack of consistency and efficiency in conducting meetings, Robert set out to create a standardized set of rules for parliamentary procedure — the rules and guidelines used in legislative bodies. His objective was to establish a universal framework for conducting meetings, regardless of the size or type of organization.

The Core Principles of Robert’s Rules

Robert’s Rules of Order are anchored on several core principles that ensure meetings are democratic and orderly:

  1. Equality: All members have equal rights, privileges, and obligations.
  2. Quorum: A minimum number of members must be present to conduct official business.
  3. Majority Rule: Decisions are made by a majority vote, while respecting the rights of the minority.
  4. Right to Speak: Members have the right to debate and discuss proposals in an organized manner.
  5. Order and Decorum: Meetings are conducted in an orderly fashion, where members follow set rules of conduct and decorum.

Key Components of Robert’s Rules

Understanding some basic components can help members effectively participate in meetings:

  1. Motions: Proposals or suggestions put forward for discussion and decision.
  2. Amendments: Changes or additions proposed to the original motion.
  3. Voting: The process of making decisions; can be done through various methods like voice vote, roll call, or ballot.
  4. Minutes: The official written record of the proceedings and decisions of a meeting.

How Robert’s Rules Facilitate Effective Meetings

  1. Structure and Clarity: By following a standardized process, meetings are more structured, preventing confusion and miscommunication.
  2. Efficient Decision-Making: Clear procedures for discussion and voting lead to more efficient decision-making.
  3. Fairness and Inclusivity: Ensuring all voices are heard and decisions are made democratically enhances fairness and inclusivity.
  4. Conflict Resolution: The rules provide a framework for resolving disagreements in a structured and respectful manner.

Robert’s Rules in Modern Meetings

While Robert’s Rules of Order were conceived in the 19th century, they have evolved and are still highly relevant in modern organizational contexts. They are widely used in a variety of settings, from board meetings and community groups to non-profits and governmental bodies.

Learning and Implementing Robert’s Rules

Embracing Robert’s Rules requires an understanding of the basic principles and a commitment to applying them consistently. There are many resources available, including the official Robert’s Rules of Order handbook, training workshops, and online courses, to help individuals and organizations adopt these rules effectively.

Robert’s Rules of Order are more than just a set of guidelines for conducting meetings; they are a pathway to more democratic, efficient, and productive organizational processes. By implementing these rules, organizations can ensure that every member’s voice is heard, decisions are made fairly, and meeting time is utilized effectively. Whether you’re a part of a small community group or a large corporation, understanding and applying Robert’s Rules of Order can significantly enhance the quality and effectiveness of your meetings.

Key elements from Robert’s Rules of Order and the procedures to follow:

  1. Call to Order:
    • The chairperson of the meeting formally announces the beginning of the meeting at the appointed time, thereby “calling the meeting to order.”
  2. Roll Call:
    • The secretary or designated person calls out the names of members or records who is present to ensure a quorum is met. A quorum is the minimum number of members needed to conduct official business.
  3. Approval of Minutes:
    • The minutes from the previous meeting are read aloud or distributed for review. Members can request corrections. Once everyone is satisfied, a motion is made and seconded to approve the minutes.
  4. Reports:
    • Reports from committees or officers are presented. Typically, no action is required; however, members may ask questions or seek clarification.
  5. Old Business:
    • The chairperson revisits unfinished business from previous meetings. These items are usually listed in the minutes and are addressed in the order they appear.
  6. New Business:
    • New topics or proposals are introduced. Any member can bring up new business by making a motion.
  7. Making Motions:
    • Main Motion: A formal proposal by a member. The motion must be seconded by another member to be considered.
    • Subsidiary Motions: These are motions that change or affect how a main motion is handled. For example, an amendment alters the main motion, a motion to table delays a decision, etc.
    • Privileged Motions: These are urgent matters unrelated to the current business, like setting a recess.
    • Incidental Motions: These relate to the meeting’s procedures, such as points of order (addressing rule violations) or appeals (challenging a chair’s decision).
  8. Debate:
    • Members discuss the motion. The chair controls the discussion to ensure each member gets a fair chance to speak. Robert’s Rules suggest limits on speaking length and number of times a member can speak to a motion.
  9. Voting:
    • After the debate, the chair asks for a vote on the motion. This can be done in various ways: voice vote (aye or no), show of hands, roll call (each member states their vote when their name is called), or secret ballot.
  10. Announcements:
  • Members or the chair can make relevant announcements or remind the group about upcoming events or deadlines.
  1. Adjournment:
  • When all business is completed, the chair asks for a motion to adjourn. Once seconded and voted on, the chair declares the meeting adjourned.
  1. Executive Session:
  • If confidential or sensitive matters need discussion, the meeting can move into an executive session. During this session, only members and individuals relevant to the discussion are present.

General Procedures to Follow:

  • Preparation: Be familiar with the agenda and any materials distributed before the meeting.
  • Respect: Follow the chairperson’s lead, respect speaking order, and avoid side conversations.
  • Participation: Engage in discussions and debates constructively, respecting time limits and speaking rules.
  • Voting: Understand the voting procedure being used and participate in votes.
  • Record-Keeping: Ensure accurate minutes are kept, documenting decisions made and actions to be taken.

Robert’s Rules of Order help maintain order and fairness in meetings. While the rules can seem complex, their primary goal is to facilitate democratic, efficient decision-making and ensure every member’s voice is heard.

Ketan Raval
Working for Let's Nurture Canada,Founder Moncton Cares Rotarian, Planning And Advisory Council Member For City of Moncton, Board of Director for New Brunswick Business Immigrant Association. Global Shaper from World Economic Forum, BNI Member. Investor, Business partners, have successfully failed, have failed fast. Supporter of all good, Friends of many, Son of few, Father of two ,Husband of One. Spending free time in writing, reading, watching sports. Love to spend time with good people instead of smart people