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Robert’s Rules of Order – Key Principles Explained

On the floor of the Maine House of Representatives, Craig pulls out his cell phone and makes a video about Robert’s Rules of Order: “this country’s recognized guide to smooth, orderly, and fairly conducted meetings.”  While complicated and intimidating to many, Craig explains how the spirit of Robert’s Rules is really great and highly useful.

And here is a link to a summary of Guidelines and Rules.


Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi it’s Craig Freshley, and I am here at the Maine State Legislature. This is the House of Representatives. Maine has both the House and the Senate and right now I am in the House Chamber.

I was here for a meeting this morning and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to talk about Roberts Rules of Order. Here it is, you can see the book on the desk. Now Roberts rules of order is, well, let me read you right from the back of the book. Here’s what it says. It is “this country’s recognized guide to smooth, orderly, and fairly conducted meetings.” In fact, this is the guide that is used by many legislatures across the country. It’s also used by unions, boards, and all different kinds of organizations. It is widely recognized as the “go to” procedure for majority rule decision-making.

But look at this book! It is very complicated set of procedures. Now they have tried to make it a little bit more simple by putting some handy tables here at the back of the book to show you the order of motions and priorities and all that kind of thing, but it can still be pretty daunting for an amateur group or even a professional group to figure out how to use Roberts Rules of Order. Over here I’ve got a simplified version.This is called Roberts Rules of Order – The Modern Addition. And it is a simplified updated version of the classic manual of parliamentary procedure.

Let me just share about Parliamentary procedure in general. It doesn’t have to be complicated. And in fact, Roberts Rules of Order has embedded in that complicated book, some pretty nifty principles. I want to share some of them with you.

First of all let’s remember that parliamentary procedure in general and Roberts Rules of Order in particular exists to try and help groups make good decisions. It’s intention is to try and make meetings more smooth and easy, not inhibit decisions or inhibit the process. Now a lot of times you run into a situation where one person in the meeting knows Roberts Rules of Order way better than anybody else in the meeting and uses Roberts Rules of Order – uses their knowledge of Roberts Rules of Order — to get their way. That is not within the spirit of Roberts Rules of Order. The idea is that it’s supposed to make things easier and honestly, fair.

Let me show you a couple other principles according to Roberts Rules or most parliamentary procedures. All the members have equal rights and privileges. Now the majority decides, but the minority always has certain rights which the majority has an obligation to protect.

Another sort of basic tenant of Roberts Rules is that there is only one question considered at a time. This is pretty good rule for any group to follow: talk about one thing at a time, know what you’re talking about and in fact, whoever is presiding over the meeting, they’re the person that above and beyond anything else that they do, they should be able to know where we are in the meeting; what is the single question on the table being discussed.

Members have a right to know at all times what the immediately pending question is and to have it restated before a vote is taken. No member can speak until recognized by the chair. No one can speak a second time on the same question as long as another wants to speak first. These are pretty good rules! They’re kind of buried in that book on the desk, but they make a lot of sense for any group.

And lastly it says here, the chair should be strictly impartial. Now if you have listened to any of my other videos or read any of my other stuff, you know that I’m a big believer in impartial facilitation and that concept is embedded right here in Roberts Rules of Order.

Now I want to show you one thing in particular out of this book. It’s stated right on page 9 and it points out that even though this is a complicated set of rules, it doesn’t have to apply to every group all the time. In fact it says right here on page 9: in organizations that have a dozen or fewer people you can kind’ve translate the rules loosely. Follow the spirit of Roberts Rules; don’t get too caught up in the letter of the whole thing.

I want to just give a little shout out here to my friend in Lewiston. Kathy Montejo is the Clerk of the City of Lewiston and she does trainings here in our state of Maine about Roberts Rules of Order and it is from her that I learned that this book is really pretty cool. It’s large and complicated and hard to understand all the details, but the spirit of it in my opinion is right on the mark for helping groups make good decisions.

I want to read one more thing here written by Major Henry Robert himself. He said that, “the object of the book is to assist an assembly to accomplish the work of the group for which it was designed in the best possible manner. To do this, it is necessary to restrain the individual somewhat, as the right of an individual in any community to do what he pleases is incompatible with the interests of the whole.” I so believe that today just the way he believed it when he wrote it; that when we make good group decisions we have to relinquish some individual rights for the rights of the group as a whole. We see that happen all the time right in this legislative body behind me and I am encouraging you to have that ethic in your group.

You don’t have to follow Roberts Rules of Order to a T, but to follow the spirit of Roberts Rules of Order will help your group make good decisions. Thanks for listening everybody.Signing off from the State of Maine House of Representatives.

9 thoughts on “Robert’s Rules of Order – Key Principles Explained

  1. Thanks for writing Liz. I’m so glad you asked about Chair impartiality. And indeed, my single comment about it in the video is super vague!

    Neither I nor Colonel Robert has any problem with a Chair voting. Of course, when it’s time for a decision, the Chair should have a say. Where impartiality is key is in managing the process: allowing ALL people to speak, not just the Chair’s friends and supporters for instance. And the Chair should allow ALL proposals to be submitted, not just those that she or he likes. That kind of thing.

    Make sense? Thanks again for writing!

  2. Hi Craig – I was interested to see your comments about the chair’s impartiality. Do you believe the chair of a nonprofit board should not have a vote? Many thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Rachel.
    So happy to hear that this is helpful.
    Thanks for helping Autistic kids!

    1. It’s a lot of fun helping Kidz and get to play with toys again 🙂 Thanks for helping them out too! Isn’t it nice, how doing a good thing has a ripple effect across the world. I don’t suppose you thought you would be helping a lego club in New Zealand when you put this together 🙂

  4. Hi Craig,

    Thanks so much for putting this together. It’s a wonderful resource, just thought I would says thanks. We run a little lego club in rural New Zealand that uses its show’s to supports Autistic Kidz. As our group is growing rapidly and as we look to how to structure its governance , run AGMs etc, your advice couldn’t be more helpful. Thank you! Kind regards Rachel

  5. Since posting this video I have gotten some nice reactions and I have learned some other things from my Robert’s Rules mentor Kathy Montejo about Robert’s Rules of Order that you might find helpful:

    1. Most state legislatures do not use Robert’s Rules as their parliamentary authority. They use Mason’s Manual which is a parliamentary authority written just for state legislatures.

    2. There are a few different parliamentary authorities – the Sturgis Code, Reed’s, Mason’s and Roberts. Roberts of course is the most popular and used by probably 99% of all groups. The Sturgis Code is used more in associations that are medically based.

    3. About every ten years, the authorship team of Robert’s Rules issues an updated edition. At present, we are on the 11th edition and it was released in 2011. It has a dark brown cover. The one in the video is the 10th edition with the gold cover. Technically, the current edition is the only one that is applicable.

    4. The summary book referenced in the video is was not published by the authorship team (owners) of Robert’s Rules. It is likely based upon the 1915 version of Robert’s Rules which is not copy written and is in the public domain due to its age.

    5. The book Kathy mentions in her comment below – called Robert’s Rules of Order In Brief – can be obtained through your local bookstore or at Highly recommended.

  6. Thanks Craig. Excellent job portraying the basic principles and objectives of Robert’s Rules. I wanted to share an additional suggestion for a resource. There is a great book that summarizes a lot of the key points that members of boards might also be interested in reviewing in order to gain some working knowledge of the basics. It is called “Robert’s Rules of Order In Brief” and it is a quick read but it will give the reader a strong foundation and understanding of how to use Robert’s Rules during a meeting.

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