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Increase Participant Satisfaction in Everyday Meetings, by Using Parliamentary Procedures

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Most of us have left a meeting feeling that there has been much spinning of plates but very little has happened to move the agenda forward. Given that there is widespread dissatisfaction with everyday meetings, how can we contribute to making them less frustrating and more productive? How can we leave a meeting confident that value has been added? And that we have clear actions to take by a firm date?

One approach to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of meetings and increasing attendees’ satisfaction is to make use of parliamentary procedure, specifically Robert’s Rules of Order.

The book of Robert’s Rules of Order, first written in 1876 by Henry Martyn Robert, aims to address the chaos he experienced at many of the meetings he attended. 

Robert’s Rules of Order describe the set of rules and codes that provide a structured framework for managing discussions, making decisions, and ensuring orderly conduct during meetings. With this systematic approach to conducting meetings, decisions are reached democratically, and desired objectives are achieved. 

Here are four tips on how to apply this approach in the meetings you attend.

The Chair

In parliamentary procedure, the role of the chair or facilitator, is pivotal to the success of the meeting. The chair should command the respect of the meeting and be seen to be fair to all. An important role of the chair is to summarise what has been discussed at the end of each specific topic to ensure that everyone is given the same information regarding any decision that has been taken and the next steps to follow. This avoids the well-known problem of people leaving the meeting unsure of its purpose and what is required of them. 

The Agenda

Under Roberts Rules of Order, an agenda is considered essential to provide a clear structure for conducting meetings. A draft agenda should be circulated in advance of every meeting and be adopted’ at the start of the meeting. ‘Adopting the agenda’ sends a strong signal that attendees buy into the meeting and are ready to participate. The items on the agenda are then followed in a systematic manner, with each item addressed and discussed before moving on to the next one. This avoids the discussion becoming derailed and promotes a focused approach to the meeting. This, in turn, decreases the likelihood of important matters being overlooked. In fact, there are some people who feel strongly that without an agenda, there is no point in attending a meeting.

Orderly discussion 

There are times during meetings when the loud extrovert voices may dominate the discussion and exclude quieter, more introverted members. Parliamentary Procedure offers a solution to this common problem. It provides a process by which the discussion takes place in an orderly manner. A person wishing to speak has to first address the chair, and the chair then has to call the person by name and invite them to speak. This respectful interchange helps to set the tone for an orderly discussion. In this way, members, one after another, have a chance to express their opinion without interruption, leading to a more positive and productive discussion and decision-making. Roberts Rules of Order also allow for people to challenge the chair (politely) if it is felt that the correct procedures are not being followed. It also allows for people to request work to be sent to a committee, adjourn the meeting and much more. This makes for an orderly and productive meeting using an established framework. 

Efficient use of time

One of the major complaints about meetings is that most run over the allotted time. Robert’s Rules of Order offer opportunities to overcome this problem in many ways.  The use of a process known as ‘unanimous consent’ to expedite non-controversial matters being addressed is a tool that could be used in everyday meetings. For example, the adoption of the agenda, the approval of the meeting minutes, moving a meeting to a new date and time could be dealt with in this manner.  Having the agenda and related documents circulated in advance of the meeting increases the chance that people will arrive prepared and ready to participate, ensuring that time is used efficiently.  By enforcing time limits on discussions, people are encouraged to be clear and concise in their presentations. The effect of adhering to these rules is an efficient use of time and more productive meetings.  

Takeaway

Today where meetings can be global, diverse and complex, the framework of Roberts Rules of Order is needed more than ever. You can find out more in the current most widely used version of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised

As discussed, the use of parliamentary procedure, and specifically Robert’s Rules of Order, can help to ensure that a meeting is focused, fair, and productive. When a meeting is well run, using this approach, diverse views and diverse voices will be heard, agenda times will be adhered to and overall satisfaction with the meeting will be enhanced.




Elizabeth Jordan serves as Director D71 and Larry Lyons as Parliamentarian D71 at Toastmasters International, a global not-for-profit that enhances communication and leadership skills.

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