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Robert's Rules of Order Video blog

ROBERT'S RULES REVEALED: Ep #10 - How to Prevent Dysfunctional Meetings

Monday, February 11, 2013 - Susan Leahy

SUSAN: Alright, so excited about today’s Robert’s Rules Revealed. Jim, how are you doing?

JIM: Good, Susan. How’s everything going with you?

SUSAN: I’m doing great, its always fun to have Mr. Parliamentarian here, we’re going to be talking about a fun topic, today, how to take the “dys” out of dysfunctional meetings. Most meetings, as I’m sure most of us will agree are pretty dysfunctional. So, Jim why don’t we just start with where you see some of the most common dysfunctions you see of meetings

JIM: Well, one of them is people who think they know how parliamentary procedure or Robert’s Rules works, and they don’t. They learned it by watching somebody who learned it, by watching somebody who learned it, by watching somebody who didn’t know it in the first place. Or worse yet, they learned it off CSPAN. The government, the legislature, they write their own rules, they’re not using Robert’s. What they do doesn’t apply to anybody but them. People try to apply those techniques and you can’t. Filibuster only works in the United Stated Senate, you cant do it anywhere else. You cant pass your time off to anybody anywhere else except in the House of the Senate, those things aren’t in Robert’s but people try to apply those rules.

SUSAN: Very, very common I see people who have watched too many episodes of Law and Order, and they’re in their meetings and they’re like, “OBJECTION”. And I’m like “sustained, but we’re not in a court of law right now”. So, that’s a big dysfunction, so they’re trying to apply some of what you’re seeing in the government or on TV and that’s not really the right process, right? So, big dysfunction. Anything else you see as being a dysfunction in meetings?

JIM: A lot of it is improper usage of various motions or other things, and that causes problems elsewhere because it then throws you off the system. For example, one of my clients had somebody who’s favorite phrase was “point of order, I move that” and of course  you can’t do that, you cant use point of order to get the attention of the chair, that’s supposed to call a fault. Or the person who thinks that time limits cannot be imposed on them, they can on everybody else, but not on them because they’re special.

SUSAN: Or the people who use something like point of information in order to actually debate.

JIM: Right "point of information" is not “I want to give you information” its “I’m requesting information”. And actually they changed that in the 11th edition of Robert’s which is good. The phrase is not “point of information” anymore it’s “request for information” because that’s what its supposed to be. It’s a request, you’re asking.

SUSAN: So, all of what I’m hearing you say with respects to dysfunctional meetings comes a lot from the fact that people aren’t really understanding or have a clear understanding of the process theyre using in their meetings. So, what do you do in your work, because I know you do lots of trainings, lots of workshops, lots of seminars. Now, what do you do in order to kind of put the, you know, take the “dys” out of dysfunctional in order to get these meetings really high functioning.

JIM: Well the first thing I want to do is try to do a training when I first come on, when I first take on a new client I really encourage them to let me do a new training, particularly if they’ve never had a parliamentarian before. Now sometimes they’ve had a parliamentarian, they know process so I don’t have to do that. But if they haven’t ever used a parliamentarian before then I try to do a training and I emphasize in the training “this is what you might have thought you knew before, but that’s not right” and we go over some of these things that people commonly get wrong, and then I also, at least for the first several meeting that people use me, I try and have them give me a few minutes before each meeting of just the regular scheduled meetings, you know monthly or whatever, that allows me to go over some of the things from the last meeting that could have been done better. Not necessarily that they were wrong, or that they weren’t according to procedure, but they could have been done better.

SUSAN: Well, let me say, I love what you’re talking about because this is one of those things that people don’t do, is let their meetings become a learning environment, and we have to start looking at, well, what are we doing in our meetings, and is it working well? If not, we have to talk about it and think about how we can improve on it. Dysfunction happens because we’re just repeating behavior that we’ve been doing from this meeting to that meeting to that meeting and we haven’t been analyzing it. So I think its so smart that within your training your creating a space for people to analyze their behavior, first learn the skill and then analyze how they’re using the skill and also fin training programs like the Robert’s Rules Made Simple solution, or have a parliamentarian come in like Mr. Parliamentarian, and really start focusing that the goal is function. So I want to thank you for taking some time with us today to get rid of the “dys” in dysfunctional meetings, thanks so much, Jim.   

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