Run better work meetings using Robert’s Rules

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A colleague asked for our best tips on leading committee meetings at work using Robert’s Rules.

In general, Robert’s Rules don’t apply at work

The first and obvious point is that work is not a venue where Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure apply. That system of meeting management is designed for assemblies—groups—where all members have equal rights, privileges and obligations. In the work setting, some people have organizational power over others. In the work setting, the boss is the final authority, not the workers. Read more about this here.

Some guidelines do apply

At the same time, some of the guidelines we promote on these pages do apply at work. They will help your work committee meetings be more effective. Here are some suggestions.

Develop a charter

The first important step is to develop a committee charter. Make sure that everyone is clear on the goals of the committee, attendance expectation, member roles and so on. It might happen that a manager is participating in a group on the same footing as the other members, in which case it is important that they not try to dominate the meeting as a “boss.”

Plan a smart agenda

Invest thought in preparing a powerful agenda. The agenda should be carefully structured to make the best use of everyone’s time. Consider the time of day, the length of the meeting, and what energy level people will bring to the meeting. We recommend indicating times for each agenda item, understanding that they are approximate. Read more thoughts on this in our article, Agenda in Robert’s Rules.

Use reflection time during the meeting

One of the best ways to encourage deep thinking is to use reflection time during the meeting. If your  task is to develop the committee’s goals, ask everyone to jot down their thoughts privately. Then capture each person’s suggestion on a whiteboard or flipchart BEFORE talking about any of them. This alternative to “brainstorming” ensures that everybody looks at the matter from their personal perspective. It will generate a wider range of alternatives for the committee to consider. This excellent post from MRSC develops this thought: Want Better Teamwork? Take More Breaks.

The chair should “recognize” people before they speak

Although it can seem challenging to do, insisting that people seek recognition (raise their hand) before speaking will make the meeting flow better. When everyone speaks up as they like, extroverts tend to dominate the discussion. Controlling the order of speaking gives the introverts an equal chance and improves the quality of the meeting.

No one may speak a second time until everyone who wishes to do so has spoken once

This old perennial rule has transforming power! While we might wish it were different, some personality types like to dominate a meeting. Others just have more to say. Evening things out by making sure that everyone has an equal chance promotes fair and democratic discussion.

Use the “round robin”

Using the “round robin” method is a great way to give everyone an equal chance to speak. You go around the table, calling on each person in turn. People may pass and speak at the end, if they wish. Read our article Using the Round Robin Method for efficient board meetings to learn more. If that idea appeals, please check out our article, Make better decisions using the Exploratory Round Robin, for an even more structured approach that is very efficient.

One thing at a time

Running off topic is a hazard for any human gathering. As chair, you have a special responsibility to help people keep focused on the agenda and the specific topic under discussion.

Speak to issues, not to personalities

This formula from Robert’s Rules is obvious. Don’t allow personal comments, innuendo or insinuations at your meetings. Insist that everyone focus on the topics at hand.

Exercise “generous authority”

In running a meeting, the chair needs to step up and be willing to assert their authority. Many folks are uncomfortable doing this, but it is essential. We love Priya Parker’s phrase in her outstanding book, The Art of Gathering. You must exercise a “generous authority” in running the meeting, because if you don’t control the meeting, someone else will.

Keep an emotional connection

Our society doesn’t do a very good job of including the role of emotion in the workplace. Emotion is the spring of human action! How people feel about their work, the committee, and themselves affects how they participate and how effective the committee meeting will be. As a leader, you need to be tuned in to your own feelings and those of others, in a respectful and understated way. Usually you don’t need to SAY anything about this. You do need to be able to recognize when people are fatigued, or bored, or frightened by the topic at hand, and adjust your tactics accordingly.

A committee chair can take notes

For assemblies, you must have two people to run a meeting, the chair and the clerk or secretary. For committees, the chair can take the notes. It may be wise, however, to recruit someone else to do this, particularly if you are writing thoughts or conclusions on a whiteboard or flipchart.

Be sure to follow up

This is another obvious point. As chair, help the group to follow up on the action items so committee time isn’t wasted. We offer a sample Action Items List in our article, Action Items List will improve board followup.

What is your experience in leading work committees?

Are there other items we should have included here? Let us know!

2 Comments

  1. Linda Koontz on October 28, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Hi Ann,

    Question please….I will be seeking an endorsement from my club to run for a District Office in our Organization. However, we are not sure that the gal currently holding the office of First VP will go on to run for President. How can I ask for an endorsement to run for either President or First VP?
    I have all qualifications and have also done these positions several years ago. Thank you



    • Ann Macfarlane on October 28, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Linda, I would ask the club to endorse you for “a leadership position with the District.” You can explain orally, in requesting the endorsement, that you will specify which office it applies to once the facts are clear. Does this help? Good luck!