The Order of Business
Deciding on the order of your meeting is crucial. It can help save time, always an important consideration. More importantly, the proper sequence and amount of time is given to matters most important to the group. Busy members will agree that they do not want to sit around and listen to long discussions on trivial issues.
An agenda is the accepted order of business — a program of business to be conducted at your meeting. Its purpose is to make the handling of the group's business an orderly process, based on the first principle of parliamentary procedure, which is to take up one item at a time.
An agenda is prepared well ahead of the meeting. It is often distributed ahead of time to its members by mail, e-mail, or fax; distribution is sometimes mandatory in certain groups. If you are in charge of an agenda, spend the time to think it through and refine it carefully. A good agenda will save a lot of time and effort and make things run smoothly at your meeting.
Some groups follow an agenda to the letter; other groups choose to be flexible, changing things as the meeting proceeds. It's especially important to have an agenda set for meetings that occur only a few times a year, and for conventions or conferences, so everything can be accomplished. Even if your group adopts an agenda before the meeting (which requires a majority vote), the agenda can be changed with a two-thirds vote at any time during the meeting.
Typical Order of Business
A particular order of business (another name for an agenda) won't always work for all organizations. However, a general format may be helpful to use as a springboard. Here is a typical order (note that calling the meeting to order and adjournment aren't considered part of the order of business):
Reading and approval of minutes
Reports by officers, boards, committees
Reports by special committees
Unfinished business and general orders
Unless your group or organization is brand-new, it likely has an established format for an agenda. It's probably been developed with a lot of trial and error during many meetings. Use the format that works for your group's needs.
How the Order of Business Works
The adoption of Robert's Rules by so many organizations has provided chairs, members, and the general public with an orderly, familiar way of running meetings. Think about how many times you've attended meetings of diverse groups and yet known how they would operate because they have adopted Robert's Rules. Reading the minutes comes first, and justifiably so — they are the official record of a meeting, and making certain they are accurate is the job of all, not just the job of the secretary.
Then, too, members who missed the last meeting can hear a quick synopsis and catch up.
Reports by the various officers, boards, and committee members follow. These elected or appointed officeholders have the responsibility of sharing important information pertaining to their office or the task they've been given.
General orders are those that a majority vote has decided will be acted upon at a specific meeting; this has been done by postponement, adoption of an agenda, or a main motion. Special orders are adopted by a two-thirds vote and a main motion that has the words
The chair has the responsibility of making certain that general and special orders are taken care of at the time assigned. If she does not do this, a member should call it to the attention of the group so that action can be taken.
Next, unfinished business is dealt with. Sometimes there is such a sheer volume of business to be handled at a meeting that not all of it can be accomplished. Other times, it may be that there was an extended discussion and so some business from a previous meeting was brought forward to be finished at the current meeting.
New business is just that — this is the first time it will come to the attention of the board. A longer, more indepth discussion of this will be featured in a later chapter, but for now, it's enough to say that new business can catch the attention of those who want the organization that is meeting to be active and vital in approaching new ways to conduct its business and further its aims.
As the leader of an organization, you'll soon see that there will be members who do not have the same depth of knowledge of the rules of order as you and others do. It's important to foster an atmosphere where diplomacy, as well as attention to rules, reigns.