By Steve E. Watkins, IEEE-HKN President
Running meetings and participating in deliberative decision-making are important aspects of leadership. As student leaders in IEEE-Eta Kappa Nu, you gain practice in such leadership skills through the normal operation of the student chapter and you see these skills in practice at other IEEE business meetings as well. Formal business meetings operate according to defined rules and informal deliberative meetings or discussions generally follow the pattern of the formal rules. For professional organizations such as IEEE and many of the other organizations, formal rules are set forth in governing documents by referencing Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised or Robert’s Rules of Order (latest revision) and are known as parliamentary procedure. Our governing documents specify this source for the conduct of business “at meetings of the IEEE Board of Directors, Major Boards, Standing Committees, and other organizational units …” And, the principles behind the rules can provide effective guidance for less formal meetings.
Rules of parliamentary procedure may be intimidating to some due to unfamiliarity and specialized terminology. However, some basic knowledge of how the rules are setup can assist in learning the details, contributing during discussions, and handling leadership roles. The intent of parliamentary procedure is to provide a balance of efficiency, fairness, and deliberation for transacting business (making decisions) and governing a group. The rules must be specified in advance or meetings can easily degenerate into arguments of “how” to conduct business rather than conducting the business itself. As Henry Martyn Robert, the author of the first edition (1876) of Robert’s Rules of Order, said, “Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty.”
Three basic principles guide parliamentary practice as defined by Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. These principles address efficiency, fairness, and deliberation and they may be expressed as follows.
• Debate, decision-making, etc. are transacted in an orderly and open manner;
• Final decisions are based on majority rules with few exceptions; and
• All participants have the right to be heard and to participate equally.
These principles are the basis of the rules for formal practice and are the basis of group expectations in informal settings. For instance, a group decision to limit debate on a proposed motion requires a supermajority vote of at least two-thirds. Minority participant’s rights to be heard are being balanced with the need to eventually reach a decision if the majority agrees. However, the adoption of the proposed motion would only require a majority vote. Again, the intent is a balance of efficiency, fairness, and deliberation.
The original version of these rules was written by Henry Martyn Robert (1837-1923). This West Point graduate served as a distinguished military engineer and retired as a brigadier general. As he traveled to different assignments, he was frequently involved in church and other civic organizations and he observed difficulties from an ad hoc approach to meeting rules. His rules system was a comprehensive, pragmatic response that was tailored for community organizations. More on his engineering background and his civic contributions are given at the Engineering and Technology History Wiki: http://ethw.org/Henry_Martyn_Robert.
The systemic approach of Robert achieved widespread success and adoption. Through a family trust and the Robert’s Rules Association, the system has been updated and a copyright maintained on a current, official version titled Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. It is currently in its eleventh edition. The website for this version is www.robertsrules.com. A common practice is to have governing documents of a civic organization include a statement such as,
“The rules contained in the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised shall govern the convention in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the bylaws of the Society and these standing rules.”
The organization can then keep its documents focused on issues tailored to its purposes and desires while having generic procedures specified by a well-defined and readily available source.
As you conduct your student chapter business and participate in other business settings, gain familiarity with this form of parliamentary procedure. Your education as a leader should include knowledge of these principles and rules.
Dr. Steve E. Watkins is an IEEE-HKN President for 2018.
© Copyright 2018 Steve E. Watkins.