Are a set of 150-year-old parliamentary rules really applicable in a typical boardroom?
I was with a board recently, engaged in a conversation about what “good governance” is (surprise, surprise!). One of the board members asked me where Robert’s Rules of Order fit into good governance. If you don’t know about Roberts’s Rules, take a second to Google them. Anyway, it’s a perfectly fair question. After all, basically every board deploys Robert’s Rules occasionally or frequently, especially when a vote is at hand. It’s a handy process to make sure we know that, in fact, a decision happened, which is good! The reason why I found the question so interesting is that it never would have occurred to me that Robert’s Rules were anything more than a potentially convenient tool, and certainly not a critical component of corporate governance generally or even board effectiveness specifically. Did you Google them? If you did, you probably saw the Wikipedia page which describes Robert’s Rules as “a manual of parliamentary procedure” from 1876. It goes on to explain that the rules “govern the meetings of a diverse range of organizations – including church groups, county commissions, homeowners associations, nonprofit associations, professional societies, school boards, and trade unions.” There’s something a bit startling about parliamentary rules being adopted by all these other types of organizations, and especially by boards, to be honest. Have you ever spent time watching a parliament try to make decisions? If you have, you probably noticed that rules matter a lot because, well, there are constantly arguments between groups of people with misaligned interests, pushing and pulling against each other. If that sounds like your board, then maybe you should hang on to Robert’s Rules for dear life. If not, you might want to consider a less structured approach once in a while.