So, What is Parliamentary Procedure?

Meetings seem to get a bad rap. Sometimes it is necessary to attend, but many people would rather avoid meetings all together.

Do you like to attend meetings? Why or why not?

The idea of chairing a meeting seems to have a similar reaction to public speaking which is one of the most common phobias. Have you chaired a business meeting? Or an Annual General Meeting?

Overcoming the stress and anxiety of meetings can be accomplished when expectations are managed through a common understanding and use of a standard order of business and a set of rules of order.

Let’s look at why rules are necessary.

First of all, the rules of order for a board or membership meeting (aka deliberative assembly) are based on the rights of:

  • The majority
  • The minority
  • Of individual members
  • Of absentees

Protecting the rights is the foundation for the rules. Ultimately, it is the majority (or two-thirds) who decides but only after deliberative process that allows all members the opportunity to be heard.

This description says it the best:

The application of parliamentary law is the best method yet devised to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.[1]

Meetings would often be considerably better if members were able to process the maximum number of decisions in the least amount of time, in a fair and respectful manner. This can be accomplished with the adoption and use of parliamentary procedure.

Second, organizations cannot function without rules just as people cannot get along without rules. Did you drive today? Did you eat in a restaurant recently? Do you recall playing a board game with your family or friends?

Rules and regulations have their place and a boardroom, is no different. Some rules are unwritten but are nonetheless important, such as social and business etiquette and good manners. As a society, we tend to understand the consequences of not adhering to rules. When we know the rules, we try to follow them.

Organizations are governed by relevant legislation and regulations. The people who govern organizations must adhere to the rules for the organization. The problem seems to arise when those elected or appointed to a board do not know to ask about the rules or they are not provided with a proper orientation nor the up-to-date governing documents of the organization. We just don’t know what we don’t know. But we can learn.

The adoption of a parliamentary authority should be included in an organization’s bylaws. If not, it is important for a group to hold itself to some standard of rules and practices. Adopting a parliamentary authority such as Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (RONR) provides a standard set of rules that meets the principles of good governance. It contains the procedures for every possible situation in a meeting so the work of devising a set of rules has already been done. It is simple and straightforward but takes time to learn. The best way to learn is to start practising the correct procedures and ask for copies of your organization’s governing documents.

So, what board orientation process does your organization have?

Until next time…..GO in the right direction!

Diana Bacon
Governance Optimizer

Stay tuned …. for the next Governance Optimizer Blog (aka GO Blog)!

[1] Henry M. Robert III and others, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th ed. (Da Capo Press, 2011), p.lii