Parliamentary Procedure Resources: Effective Meeting Tips
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Parliamentary Procedure Resources: Articles

(Parliamentary and Nonparliamentary): Part Two

In my over thirty years of experience I have facilitated both meetings using parliamentary procedure and meetings not using parliamentary procedure, such as meetings in businesses. I have learned many tactics that can make the meeting more effective and efficient! Many of these tactics are explained in greater detail in my book The Guerrilla Guide to Robert’s Rule.  This article is a summary of the tactics that can be useful in all of the meetings you attend.  This is the second part of a multi-part article.

In part one of this series I covered the following subjects:

  • Share Ownership of the Meeting
  • Purpose of Meeting Clear to All
  • No Agenda, No Meeting

In this part of the series I will cover:

  • Role of the Meeting Chairman
  • The Importance of a Second
  • Focus Attention on One Issue at a Time
Role of the Meeting Chairman

Before ever opening the meeting, the person who is chairing the meeting should give serious thought to his role in the meeting. If the chair finds himself thinking about how to get the group to agree with him, he should not be serving as chair of the meeting.  The role of the chair is to facilitate the meeting.  The focus of the chair should always be on helping the attendees accomplish what they want to accomplish during the meeting, not what the chair wants to accomplish!

During the meeting the facilitative role of the chair includes observing and focusing on fairness. While the meeting is progressing, the chair should observe the reaction of all of the members to what is going on in the meeting.  It is that observation that will help you determine the will of the group and help make sure that the will of the group is carried out.  If you are constantly looking down at your notes and focusing on yourself, you will miss the reaction of the group and not be able to help facilitate the group to resolve its issue. If you are thinking about what to say or contributing your thoughts to the discussion, you are not able to appropriately observe and facilitate the meeting.

The second focus of a facilitative chair is on fairness.  The entire basis of Robert’s is fairness and that should also be the basis of all meetings.  The role of the chair is to make sure fairness continues throughout the meeting.  Therefore, the chair should think fairness as she recognizes people to speak.  The chair should recognize the person who proposed the idea first. She should recognize people who have not yet spoken before those who have already spoken, and should recognize people who are going to share diversity of opinions before those who would repeat the same opinions.

The most important thing for the chair to remember is that the symbol for a chair is a gavel, which is a symbol of fairness and justice.  The symbol for the chair is not a crown, which is a symbol of royalty.  When serving as chair, you are not the king or queen, so don’t act like it!

The Importance of a Second

In a meeting conducted using parliamentary procedure when a motion is made, there are six steps in processing that motion.  The second step is that a member, other than the member who made the motion, seconds the motion.  If there is no second, the motion does not proceed forward but dies for a lack of a second.  I have always believed that this parliamentary process should also be used in meetings that do not use parliamentary procedure.

Before discussion began on an issue, if the meeting chairman made sure that at least two people in the room wanted to discuss the issue, can you imagine the amount of time that would be saved?  This is true for nonparliamentary meetings as much as it is for parliamentary meetings.  I have frequently observed meetings in which discussion went on for a very long time and as you looked around the room, it was obvious that only one person was carrying the torch for this issue and cared about whether or not it was discussed. 

The answer to this problem is very simple.  Before spending time on any issue, the meeting chairman should check to make sure that enough people want to discuss the issue for the group to spend time on it.  It could be handled very simply, by asking the group “Is this an issue that you find important enough for us to spend time on?”  If only one person answers yes, then you should point that out come back with the comment that since there are not more wanting to spend time on it, we will move on to the next issue.

Focus Attention on One Issue at a Time

In meetings conducted using parliamentary procedure, there is only one main motion allowed at a time.  Other motions that are allowed while that main motion is still being discussed must be applicable to that specific motion.  If they are applicable to the subject, but not to that motion, they are not allowed to be discussed until that specific motion is voted on.  This technique keeps the discussion focused and helps the group drive the issue to a resolution.

This same tactic can and should be used in non parliamentary meetings.  It should be used in a less formal manner, but can be very helpful in keeping the meeting focused.  Let’s vision how it might be useful.  When an agenda item comes up in the non parliamentary meeting, the meeting chair should early in the process facilitate the group to focus the subject so that it is very specific, instead of broad.  So that instead of the topic being how to improve all of our processes (which could go in numerous different directions), we focus on how to improve our processes between Step A and Step B.  Or instead of the topic being our remodeling project, focus the discussion on specific aspects of the remodeling project, one at a time.

If at the beginning of the discussion of an issue, the subject is very limited and focused, it is much easier to keep the discussion on task, instead of watching it wonder from one aspect to another and back again.

The problem with this approach is that people may bring up very good, unrelated ideas during the discussion.  If the chair cuts them off, those ideas may be lost.  That is where using a Parking Lot may help keep the group focused without squelching ideas. 

If you are not familiar with the use of a Parking Lot, let me explain.  When an idea comes up that has merit but is not relevant to the specific topic under discussion at that time, the Parking Lot is a great technique to capture the thought without disrupting the current discussion. The chair of the meeting, or any other member displaying leadership skills, indicates that the topic that is not related should be placed on the Parking Lot.  The Parking Lot is either a flip chart that everyone can see or it is kept as a note by a specific member.  Then, later, when the group has time to discuss the issue, it is taken off of the Parking Lot and discussed by the group.

Keeping the attention focused on one issue at a time takes a lot of discipline from the person chairing the meeting as well as from all of the meeting attendees.  But, it can be extremely helpful in saving meeting time and reducing meeting frustration.

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