|A series of communications to help improve engineering and project management teams
Many of us approach team meeting management based on our past experiences in the workplace. With
professional experience as engineers, we might be familiar and comfortable with small group, informal,
fast-paced, tech-talk meetings. Also familiar is the ritual of design review meetings, which tend to limit
interactive exchange and are tightly structured. Beyond these contrasting examples, there are times in our
team meetings when we strain to find the right balance of formality. We also face control challenges when
our meetings grow beyond perhaps ten people - too many people try to talk at once; others wander off
subject; information flows but is captured haphazardly. When necessary, you as team leaders are the
persons who must bring control and order to your team meetings – but how? Here is a little information
about some formal procedure and its guiding principles.
Have you ever heard of “Robert’s Rules of Order”? (www.robertsrules.com). First published in 1876 by
U.S. Army engineering officer General Henry Robert, it has over time through 10 editions and updates,
become a de facto reference and guide for parliamentary procedure – the tradition of rules and customs
that guide many deliberative assemblies that gather to discuss issues and decide on actions to be taken.
Now, we may not want strict formality in our small team meetings, but there are many enlightening ideas
in Robert’s Rules (commonly referred to as “RONR” for Rules of Order Newly Revised). The web site
also has a very active user forum with many questions and opinion responses posted daily. Here are
some RONR concepts you may find useful:
A. Presiding Officer. To keep order, one person is chosen to preside over the meeting. A common term
to refer to this person is “chairman”, “chairperson”, or simply “chair”. We often think of the team leader as
providing this role, though a facilitator might also do so. Use whatever term is most comfortable, but be
sure someone is clearly in charge.
B. Quorum. The minimum number of members who must be present at a meeting to conduct
substantive business. Our teams might decide in their Team Charter what constitutes a quorum, which
also becomes an impetus to drive attendance.
C. Standard Order of Business. A meeting begins when it is called to order by the presiding officer. You
can determine and adopt your own agenda, but lacking one, RONR suggests a simplified traditional order
of business that includes:
1. Reading and Approval of Minutes. The members are provided an opportunity to read or hear the
previous minutes, and barring any corrections, they are approved for the official record.
2. Reports. These are information or recommendations for action from members, boards, or
committees of the organization. On our teams, every core member has a role, and it is reasonable to
consider that each person would have a status or report to provide. Consider rotating “reports” by core
members on a rolling basis.
3. Unfinished Business. Any items carried over from the previous meeting. RONR cites “In a
properly conducted meeting, there is no type of class of business called old business”, which is meant to
avoid repeating closed topics.
4. New Business. Members use a procedure called “making a motion” to bring up new items for
consideration. A motion is a formal proposal by a member, in a meeting, that the group take certain action.
D. Decision making. Voting is most common in RONR, but we can use autocratic, consensus,
participative or expert decision methods. The bottom line: the team should be clear in its decisions and its
decision making procedures. Capture them in the meeting minutes.
E. Secretary role. This includes what we might call a ‘recorder’, but is much more. In RONR, a
secretary sends out meeting notices, prepares the order of business for the presiding officer, publishes
draft minutes for reading and approval, records motions, assists with voting (decision making), and keeps
the official records of the group.
While there are thousands of Robert’s Rules adherents, there are some who view them as arcane
procedure. Formality in our fast-moving project team meetings is often minimized for good reason. But
there are sure to be occasions when order and control are necessary. You can decide what’s best for your
team, and adapt practices from RONR as you deem appropriate. Contact me for any advice or assistance
in implementing these ideas.
1. Robert's Rules of Order (Newly Revised, 10th Edition); Henry M. Robert III; ISBN 0738203076
2. Breaking Robert's Rules: The New Way to Run Your Meeting, Build Consensus, and Get Results;
Lawrence E. Susskind; ISBN 0195308360
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