By Diana Bacon, MBA
If you have been at a business meeting, you are likely familiar with the agenda. But did you know that a standard agenda has been in use since 1876 when Henry Robert first published a parliamentary manual (meeting rule book)? Today’s current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th edition) was published in 2011. The standard business meeting agenda is designed to provide a meeting structure that remains consistent within organizations. The standardized agenda is especially beneficial for those who may serve on more than one board. Let’s review the standard meeting process to help you to better understand the standard business agenda.
Quorum is usually indicated in the bylaws but if not, quorum is typically a majority of the members. The requirement for a minimum number of members to be present at business meetings ensures the organization is not bound by decisions taken by a small number of members.
When there is no quorum present at the meeting, those present may only do a very limited number of things, such as set the time and place for another meeting. An adjourned meeting is a continuation of the session of the immediately preceding meeting. If a regular meeting is unable to complete its work, an adjourned meeting can be scheduled for later that day or another time before the next regular scheduled meeting.
An adjourned meeting starts at the point where the previous meeting session was interrupted, except the minutes of the preceding session are read first.
Order of Business
An order of business, orders of the day, agenda, and program refer to the order business is taken up in a session. An order of business is a sequence of business items.
Standard order of main business headings: (optional headings may be added)
- Reading and Approval of Minutes
- Unfinished Business
- New Business
An alternative agenda to the standard agenda may be adopted by the board. An agenda sets out the order of specific items. Some agendas will have a timing schedule for recess, lunch, or for when an invited guest or speaker will address the assembly.
To save time, minutes of the previous business meeting can be distributed in advance of the meeting. If so, the chair will state, “The minutes of the previous meeting have been distributed. Are there any corrections to the minutes?” Corrections are usually made without objection, but if there is, the proposed correction can be debated and voted upon. The chair then states, “If there are no [further] corrections, the minutes are approved.” Only after minutes are approved, do they become the official record of what happened.
Committee Reports with Recommendations
The board hears reports from officers and committees. These reports often are for information purposes only. Reports are received when they are heard and no motion is in order. Sometimes the reports include recommendations for action by the board. These recommendations are then debated and voted upon by the board at the end of the report containing them.
Special Orders (if any)
Special orders are taken up before unfinished business and general orders, or if none, before new business. A special order is an important item to be considered at a specific time with strict rules to suspend rules when necessary to allow consideration at the specified time, with some exceptions, such as adjournment, recess, question of privilege. As a special order interrupts any business pending when the specified time arrives, it requires a two-thirds vote to create a special order unless the special order is included in the adoption of the agenda.
Setting specific times are more common at conventions for scheduling speakers, an important business matter (such as bylaws) that requires quorum, etc. Important matters such as considering bylaws, and the nomination and election of officers may be regarded as special orders for the meeting, even without being set for a specific time.
Unfinished Business and General Orders
Unfinished business are items carried over from the previous meeting (in order) that was in the process of being considered when the meeting adjourned any items that were scheduled but were not reached before the meeting was adjourned (in the order they were scheduled).
General orders are taken up after unfinished business (business pending, or not disposed of, at the adjournment of the previous meeting), if any, and before new business. A general order may or may not be set for a particular time. If a time is set, it can only be taken up when no other business is pending and when the category of General Orders has been reached or passed. General orders are taken up in the order listed.
New items may be brought up by any member by using the procedure to make a motion.
Adjournment, Recess and Standing at Ease
When all items on the agenda are complete, the meeting can be closed. The chair can use unanimous consent to adjourn the meeting. If there is still business that has not been completed, a majority can vote to adjourn.
To take a short break, a majority may vote to recess. The chair may cause a brief pause, if no member objects, by directing the members to stand at ease.
Learning RONR will help you and your group to be better prepared to handle business and make decisions in business meetings. Understanding the purpose, content, and structure of the agenda can further help you and your group to plan, prepare, and follow a standard agenda.