How To Stop Wasting Time In Meetings And Actually Get Things Done

Posted on Sep 3, 2022

Like many of us, I've lost what feels like years of my life in inefficient meetings. Now, I enlist Robert's Rules of Order to ensure my meetings stay on topic. U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert developed this manual over a century ago to govern meetings effectively by adapting procedures from Congress. Since then, this approach has become a standard for facilitating group discussions and decision-making.

I've used Robert's Rules of Order to find resolutions among contentious board members who were in such disagreement that they were jeopardizing their entire company, so I know it can help your meetings run smoothly, too.

Based on my experience, here's a five-step breakdown of how to get the most out of these rules:

1. Identify an agenda and chairperson.

A chairperson will lead the meeting according to set rules and a predetermined agenda. The meeting organizer should set the agenda and seek feedback from participants in advance to avoid surprises and determine the appropriate length of time for the meeting. An effective agenda introduces the participants and includes the purpose, old business, new business and action items.

Identify a chairperson who is unbiased toward everyone in the room and the agenda items. It's also helpful if they're a strong leader with training in meeting facilitation and parliamentary procedure. Everyone gets a chance to speak if desired, but only after raising their hand and getting approval from the chair. All comments are directed toward the chair, which encourages respect.

If a conversation becomes long-winded, repetitive or irrelevant, the chair can end it. However, the purpose is for everyone to participate in an orderly manner, not to prevent necessary discussion. If the chair cannot command the rules effectively or is subject to personal attack, they can designate another speaker to deflect conflict.

2. Introduce a motion.

To propose a decision, action or new piece of business, someone must make a motion, and someone else must second it, which the chair can do. The chair then opens the floor for discussion before calling for a vote on the issue. Unless your organization specifies otherwise, a majority is generally required to pass a motion.

3. Act on the motion.

Once someone proposes a motion, anyone can move to amend it by adding, removing or replacing details. For example, if you're moving to purchase a business, someone might propose an amendment to the price. If the amendment is seconded and a majority accepts it, the group then votes on the original motion with the new price after any additional discussion.

If additional information is needed, you can send the motion to a committee, who will prepare a report for the next meeting. If a relevant committee doesn't exist, establish one.

To speed things up, there are a few strategies you can try. For example, if I, as chair, want to suspend the discussion and move to a vote, I might say "Anything else?" pause for a moment and continue, "Without objection, we move to the vote. All in favor of X, please say 'aye.'" So, I end the discussion and take a vote in seconds by saying "without objection."

Or, someone can say, "I call the question." If this is seconded and two-thirds of the room agrees, the group votes on the motion immediately. You can also move to table the discussion until later in the meeting, the following meeting or indefinitely.

4. Repeat as needed — and keep the discussion moving.

Repeat this process until you've completed the agenda. If more than one action is proposed, the most recent one takes precedence. For example, if someone moves to postpone a discussion after an amendment is proposed, the group must first vote whether to continue the conversation before finalizing the amendment.

The beauty of this approach is that you can cite the rules to deal with uncooperative group members and end off-topic discussions. To address tangents more softly, you can also use my catchphrase: "Well, that's all very interesting, I'm sure." The key is to say this with a smile and pause before the last two words. Then continue with, "However, as we were discussing …"

5. End the meeting on time.

Group members can move to end the meeting at any time. If I'm not confident that the meeting will finish on time, I declare a hard stop in advance, so there's an escape route.

These are the most popular motions that organizations use, but you can consider others. For example, if someone needs to leave early, they can move to prioritize an agenda item that is particularly relevant to them. You can also object to someone's actions, request that the chair make a decision on an issue, or move to reconsider a previous discussion. Of course, you can also modify the rules to create a process that's suitable for your organization. My main recommendation is that you have to start with the formal rules before you as the committee or entity start to modify them.

While Robert's Rules of Order might sound antiquated, I believe it is truly the fairest system. Once your team gets used to the approach, you'll likely see a productivity boost that helps you save hours (or what feels like years) of your life.

Original article: How To Stop Wasting Time In Meetings And Actually Get Things Done 

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