Boardroom and church – how much difference?

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David Rumsey, past president of the American Translators Association, offers thoughts for the holiday season in this guest post. 

Photo of David Rumsey, past president of American Translators AssociationHolding chaotic human emotions in a container of a properly guided meeting based on specific rules and guidelines helps groups to find order and openness in a world of conflict and contention. There isn’t much difference whether it’s in a boardroom or in a church.

Parliamentary procedure is a lot like a spiritual practice. All life is full of struggle. Either we are fighting hard to get our way, or we are terrified that things may change and we’ll lose everything we gained. Sometimes, we look to higher authorities, be it the presider or the priest, to clarify our motives and set down the rules for the game of life. To give us a greater perspective.

In a boardroom, it’s easy to get so focused on the outcome of the discussion—winning the vote—that we lose track of the process itself. One person’s victory often involves another person’s defeat, and we can easily disregard the need for empathy and respect for other viewpoints.

A good meeting presider knows that the focus should be on the “spirit” of the debate. To keep an open mind to all sides of an issue – even those that may not have been discovered. Hours of advance discussion before a meeting still doesn’t guarantee a specific outcome or vote.

Similar to Sunday morning services, there is something somewhat mystical when members of a group gather together in a room and bring their own frail and contradictory humanity to a meeting. Where decisions are reached through the ephemeral interplay between participants that is guided by specific rules of order and discussion.

Roberts’ Rules of Order, corporate bylaws or local regulations can all help to set the parameters of behavior for an organization, in the same ways that various religious and spiritual texts may provide guidance to the followers of a respective spiritual tradition. However, the true benefit of those texts is not in the letters on the page, but how the principles behind them are interpreted and applied to everyday life and business. That can bring insights and clarity to life’s never-ending issues and challenges.


Read our post, Robert’s Rules as spiritual discipline, for further thoughts along this line.