Handling Motions

By Diana Bacon, MBA

You may have attended a number of business meetings over the years, but did you notice the process and words used, to make a motion or change a motion, often varies? This is often the reason business decision-making can be confusing and frustrating. You may have thought there should be some consistency among groups, perhaps a standardized process that everyone can use, like the rules of a game. Whether you play a baseball game or a board game at different locations, you can expect the rules to be the same, right? Right! Business meetings should be no different. In fact, there are meeting rules – Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. Unfortunately, people tend to use outdated or incorrect meeting rules which are often learned vicariously through listening to others.

The basic rules for handling motions should be consistent from one business meeting to another even at different locations. I will present the formal process as it is important to understand what is required when there are 12 or more members present at the meeting. (In a previous article, I explained how a few rules may be adjusted for informal circumstances.)

The presiding officer should use the eight steps for handling a main motion. This is fundamental to ensuring clarity on what is to be discussed and to be voted upon. The eight steps are:

  • Member stands to be recognized by the chair
  • Member makes a motion
  • Another member seconds the motion
  • Chair states the motion
  • Members debate the motion
  • Chair restates the motion
  • Chair puts the question to a vote
  • Chair announces the result of the vote and the effect of the adopted motion

Let’s review the steps.

1. In order to make a motion or to speak, you stand immediately after the previous speaker has finished. At this time you call out, “Mr. President” (or “Mr. Chair”). When the chair recognizes you, you then may speak. This means you “have the floor”. When you finish, you sit down and “yield the floor”.

2. A motion is a formal proposal that introduces a business matter to the group. The motion is used to start a decision-making process. To make a motion, say “I move that…(state proposal)”.

3. To second the motion means to agree that the matter should be discussed, not that you agree with the motion. The intention is to ensure at least two members wish to discuss the matter. If there is no seconder, the motion is not put before the group for discussion or decision. The seconder is not recorded in the minutes. To second a motion, you call out “Second.” You do not need to rise nor seek recognition from the chair.

4. After the motion is moved and seconded, the chair needs to ensure that the motion does not violate any rules and that the motion is clearly phrased. If not, the chair may assist the mover with the phrasing. The chair may then state the motion, (state the “question”) to the group by saying, “It has been moved and seconded that…”. The chair must state the question on a motion for it to be properly before the group. This ensures everyone is clear on the exact wording of the motion before any discussion. Until the chair states the motion, no consideration of the motion is permitted.

5. Members debate the motion after the motion is stated by the chair and therefore the motion is “on the floor”. It is important to follow the rules of decorum. The rules of decorum are worth repeating in this article. The formality that serves to maintain decorum include:

  • Address only the chair, or through the chair
  • Only one speaker at a time
  • Stand to speak, unless a small board or committee
  • Speak only after recognition by the chair
  • The chair refers to himself only in the third person (never “I)
  • Confine remarks to the merits of the pending question
  • Refrain from attacking another member’s motives
  • Refrain from speaking against one’s own motion
  • Member should be seated if the chair interrupts
  • Refrain from disturbing the assembly or getting in the way of business

6. When debate has ceased, the chair may ask, “Are you ready for the question?” (or “Is there any further debate?”) which is a formal way of asking if everyone is ready to vote on the proposal immediately, or if anyone wishes to offer an amendment, or to speak about the motion.

7. If it is clear there is no more debate, the chair first repeats the wording of the motion, “The question is on the adoption of the motion that…” then provides directions for the group to vote. The chair “puts” the question to a vote. The chair may say, “Those in favour of the motion, say aye,” then “Those opposed, say no.”

8. After the vote, the chair will determine then report the results of the vote and may confirm as follows:

  • Whether the “ayes” or the “noes” have it (whether majority or two-thirds required)
  • Declare whether the motion is adopted or lost
  • Indicate the effect of the vote, as needed or appropriate

The eight steps to handling a motion form the basic structure of a decision-making process. When you understand the basics, you will be better prepared to learn more about the debate process.