While rules attempt to keep meetings efficient, orderly, cooperation is key
Over the decades of my life I have attended multi-hundreds of meetings of every variety. Some meetings have been well and efficiently run, while others meandered from topic to topic, taking a lot of time and often accomplishing very little. I have to admit I’ve attended the good, bad and ugly when it comes to meetings.
I think that all of the meetings would claim to follow Robert’s Rules of Order parliamentary procedure. Relatively few do, and that’s fine with me, because many organizations devise methods that work for them. I think that meetings have to follow their own rules, which may differ from what many think is the norm. In my opinion a good meeting is one that accomplishes the work on its agenda in an efficient manner and that allows everyone a chance to give their opinion. Well, there is one other goal: that the opinions are given in a civil and respectful manner and that the final decision is accepted.
I have been asked many times if Robert’s Rules of Order is a law and all governmental groups are required to abide by them. Well, the answer is “no.” Robert’s Rules of Order give excellent suggestions, and most governmental groups and other organizations amend them to fit their needs. They provide an excellent guideline for many meetings but don’t fit every need.
I always thought they dated back for centuries, but that is not the case. The first set of rules was devised by Major (later General) Henry Martyn Robert in 1863. He was called on to preside at a church meeting and was concerned about the method of handling the agenda.
The first edition was entitled “Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies” and was published in 1876. It is the most widely used reference on parliamentary procedure in the English language.
Robert loosely patterned his rules after those used by the U. S. House of Representatives. I thought this was interesting since both the House and Senate in the first half of the 19th century were a fairly raucous group with debates sometimes resulting is fist fights.
Over the years there have been many editions, and parliamentarians always scramble to interpret the changes while most organizations pay relatively little real attention. The last edition according to a couple of websites was published in 2011.
While the most widely known rules of parliamentary procedure, it is certainly not the first. The human race has been holding meetings for thousands of years, and the first known formal meeting rules were in Greece in about 750 BC, known as “Demeter’s Manual.” In fact, most ancient cultures had some rules in place for their tribal councils.
When England formed a parliament, it was soon discovered that there had to be rules to keep members in line and prevent them from literally killing each other. Apparently the first formal parliamentary rules were assembled in about 1066.
These early rules crossed the Atlantic Ocean and became the basis for our governmental rules as legislative bodies were formed in the fledgling nation. These rules didn’t satisfy Thomas Jefferson, who believed Congress needed better rules. In 1801 he wrote the “Manual of Parliamentary Practice.” Despite all the many efforts, legislative procedure remains a ponderous and confusing process.
I guess it really doesn’t matter what rules or procedures groups follow, because it all comes down to willingness to cooperate on the part of members. If those in groups, both private and governmental, have the goals of making things better for everyone, it really doesn’t matter the form that is used – the meeting will be successful.