Like it or not, rules are a necessary part of our everyday lives. Without them, we likely would never get to work in the morning. Think what it would be like if intersections were not controlled by stop signs or traffic lights. Or if there were no lines on the roads and people drove wherever they felt like that day. Clearly, rules of the road make for more efficient travel around town giving everyone a fighting chance to get where they need to go. Without them, chaos would reign supreme.

You could say the same thing about meetings. Without some pre-agreed mechanisms for organizing how business will be conducted, an organization might consider itself fortunate if it were able to accomplish more than just some routine tasks at one of its general membership meetings.

That’s likely why your organization has adopted a standard set of parliamentary procedures to be used at its general meetings. Those might be Robert’s Rules of Order or Bourinot’s Rules or maybe a set of customized house rules defined in a policy manual. Whatever the case, procedural rules are the friend of every person in the room, especially when contentious issues must be addressed. They lay out a framework for respectful and orderly discussion and debate, and when applied properly by the chairperson, insure all have equal opportunity to participate in decision-making.

And therein lies the rub. Rules only work if they are applied correctly and fairly. That’s why it’s critical for a chairperson to have a good basic understanding of the rules so that he or she not only knows when something is amiss but also how to fix or remedy the situation.

Naturally, the more practice you have at chairing meetings, the more comfortable you will become with proper procedures. That level of comfort can only increase if some additional time and effort is invested in reviewing your organization’s procedural rules on a regular basis. Why? So you won’t get caught off guard when someone moves to adjourn a meeting in the middle of a debate on a motion that has already been moved and seconded. Or, you won’t look like a deer in the headlights when someone tries to move a motion that has already been defeated earlier in the same meeting. The most dangerous thing you can do is assume that there will never be a person in the room with more knowledge of the rules than you. So be prepared as well as possible for the unexpected.

If you live in the Winnipeg area, Lorch and Associates offers an introductory workshop on Robert’s Rules of Order. The next session occurs on the morning of Saturday, April 11, 2015. We welcome novice chairs as well as those who have some experience but are looking for a bit of a refresher course. More info about the workshop and how to register is available elsewhere on our website. And if you’re outside of the Winnipeg area, we now offer our Robert’s Rules workshop in an online format.