Robert's Rules For Dummies
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Some types of meeting are better suited to a not-so-strict enforcement of Robert's Rules of Order. If your group needs to consider an issue that calls for a more freewheeling discussion than close attendance to Robert's Rules allows or you're part of a committee or small board with fewer than a dozen members, some aspects of formality can actually slow things down.

Considering things informally

A regular assembly, no matter how large or small, has some options to relax its rules and deliberate on any particular subject under the rules for committees and boards. It may

  • Resolve itself into a committee of the whole or a quasi-committee of the whole. The entire assembly makes itself one big committee and uses committee rules as the rules of debate on a particular subject. In a quasi-committee the presiding officer of the whole body and the committee can be the same person.

  • Simply relax the rules and consider a particular subject informally. This move essentially relaxes the limits on debate. Votes during informal consideration are votes of the assembly.

  • Establish breakout groups. This method requires some planning in advance so that facilitators can be appointed to bring back the results of these short committee meetings.

Taking it easy in committees and small boards

For larger groups, the need for formality is more important, so you start off formal and use special procedures to relax formality in some circumstances. But with smaller assemblies and committees, things work just the opposite. You start off with more relaxed rules and only get formal if such a change becomes necessary.

Your board and committee meetings are generally subject to the same rules as the organization they serve, and you can't adopt special rules of procedure unless the bylaws authorize it. However, many of the procedural rules important in large groups are relaxed in boards and committees — unless the committee is so large that the formality of a regular membership assembly is a practical necessity.

Under the relaxed rules of procedure for committees and small boards,

  • You can make motions or speak without the necessity of formal recognition.

  • Your motions don't have to be seconded.

  • You can speak as often as you can politely obtain the attention of the other members. In fact, motions to Limit Debate aren't in order, and the motion to Reconsider practically knows no limit in a committee.

  • You can discuss things without a motion being on the floor.

  • You don't need to take minutes. However, having some record is useful, and it may be customary for the chair to keep notes of committee proceedings for reference.

  • The chair can make motions, participate in discussion, and vote.

An option open to a group operating under relaxed rules is taking a vote by unanimous consent, which means that you can take a vote by assuming a motion even where none has been formally made, and, if it's abundantly clear that a particular decision is pending, state the obvious and make that decision. An example may help: Your group is talking about whether the fire truck you're recommending to the company commander should be red or white. Your committee is sitting around the table, and you say, "The red one is cheaper. Besides, the white one will show more dirt." Boris says, "Yeah, I like red fire trucks better anyway." The chair then says, "Then I guess we go with the red fire truck. Any objections?" No one objects, so you just decided to recommend the purchase of a red fire truck. Wasn't that easy?

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