Who Needs Parliamentary Procedure Anyway? Part 2

by Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP
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My last post provided the simple answer to why organizations still use (the seemingly outdated, archaic-sounding) parliamentary procedure: They use it because they are following state law, or because their bylaws say that they will adhere to a certain parliamentary authority (rulebook) and they have to follow their bylaws.

I completely agree with the general public that the simple answer — “do-it-cuz-you’re-told” — is a bit unsatisfying. This week, I’ll tackle your real question: Does parliamentary procedure actually have any practicality or relevance?

I’ll give you the answer up front. Parliamentary procedure is still practical and relevant because most groups need some sort of structure to run efficiently, and parliamentary procedure is based on common group decision-making principles.

Most Groups Need Structure to Be Efficient and Sustainable

Forming a group of any kind requires some rules. Sometimes there’s only a few rules, and sometimes the rules are flexible. But c’mon…even a book club has rules, right?

In general, the larger the group and the more official it is (think incorporation), the more rules you need. Organizing and leading a meeting of 10 people is much different than doing the same for 5,000, or even 100. Parliamentary procedure provides a “ready-made” set of rules for groups to follow. Sure, some of the rules in Robert’s Rules or other parliamentary authorities are less applicable to groups of a certain type or size, but they can be tweaked to meet specific needs.

So yes, parliamentary procedure is still practical. And yes, relevant. Because in the general sense that “guidelines help,” parliamentary procedure helps. It helps meetings happen – smoothly.

Parliamentary Procedure Is Based on Fundamental Principles of Group Decision-Making

So, point #2 here addresses the “it’s random and outdated” argument head on.

Often underlying this argument is a particular scenario: You have a surface encounter with Robert’s Rules (like at a convention or homeowners association meeting where people are using it and you’re utterly lost). And you quickly decide that because you’ve never heard these terms or seen this process, this must be some archaic set of rules.

Yep . . . lack of knowledge. Nothing could be more untrue. Parliamentary procedure is based on really simple guidelines for group decision-making that we all know.

For example, in general, a group – even a group of friends deciding where to go to lunch – takes the course of action that a majority of people thinks is best. Parliamentary procedure just makes that general practice an official one and provides some guidelines (like how and when to take a vote) for figuring out the majority view – especially in situations when the decision is (“a little”) more important than choosing a lunch place.

Here’s another example: We can all agree that group discussions happen best when one person talks at a time, right? And when everyone who wants to participate gets to attend and gets to offer their opinion, correct? Parliamentary procedure just provides rules to make sure these things actually happen. Like a two-thirds vote to end discussion on a topic. (That higher-threshold vote of two-thirds is required because the group is cutting off a basic right of each member – the right to discuss and offer an opinion.) Or like quorum and notice requirements for special meetings.  One reason that these rules exist in the world of parliamentary procedure is to protect every member’s right to be there and participate in the group’s decisions.

My point is simply that parliamentary procedure isn’t an academic, purposefully-complicated framework for running a meeting. Sure, there are certain rules that definitely merit that description.  But, on the whole, parliamentary procedure is merely a “fleshing-out” of general rules and wisdom that we all already know and agree on.

Do you want a well-run group – where everyone’s voice is heard and order is maintained? Then parliamentary procedure should be your new best friend.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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