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General Robert and His Rules

Why some meetings go well.

by Everett Wilson
July 2, 2005

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General Robert and His Rules
"In other competitions, the Parliamentary Procedure Team... placed first."
—from the web page of Monroe County High School in Kentucky
We didn't have parliamentary procedure teams in high school when I was a kid. We had a reference to Robert's Rules in the constitution of the theatre club, but I don't believe we had an actually copy of the Rules. That has also been true of many voluntary organizations I have belonged to over the years. 

I was twenty-one and a college graduate when I first attended a meeting that took Robert's Rules seriously. The chair had a working grasp of them, and the members seemed to know what he was talking about when he invoked them at various moments in the meeting. I caught on almost immediately — that you can accomplish a lot in a business meeting when you follow the pattern laid down by General Robert and his successors over the past 140 years. 

Henry M. Robert was not an attorney, but an army engineer who was elected to chair a volunteer society, around the time of a the Civil War. When he tried to learn how to run a meeting fairly, he couldn't find a single book that contained all he needed to know; so out of his research he compiled his own. The book has gotten pretty fat in its subsequent editions, but it has not been superseded, and its internal logic remains intact. 

For me, as for General Robert, parliamentary procedure is not a hobby but a tool that belongs to the whole meeting, for the sake of the whole meeting. It is no more a game than auto mechanics is a game. When it is working well, it is invisible. If it has to become visible sometimes, like a mechanic showing up at a breakdown on the highway, remember that the mechanic did not cause the breakdown. He is there to fix it, and to get the car back on the road. 

So when you have been to a well-run meeting, remember that General Robert has also been there — in the mind and manner of the chair, the table officers, and in the care of the planners of the meeting. Then join me in celebrating one of my favorite things: Robert's Rules of Order, the Tenth Edition!

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