“Can you Chair the Meeting, Please?” III
In our first article we briefly covered the formal or semi-formal nature of meetings, and what that means, and what it means that the Chair is in charge. You can have a look at it here https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2017/10/26/chair-meeting-1/
In our second article we covered the five basics of an efficient meeting: an agenda, reports, proposals, discussion, decisions. It’s available here https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/chair-meeting-2/
In this article we’re covering Topics Four and Five: points of order and machinery issues/motions, and rulings.
Fourth, understand points of order and machinery issues/motions.
There are plenty of decisions made in meetings which are called “machinery” or procedural, because they are (allegedly, sometimes …) about making the meeting run smoothly. These include motions like:
- “That the speaker be allowed an extension of time of 5 minutes”
- “That debate be ended, and the motion be now put”
- “That owing to the meeting running late, item 6 on the agenda be dealt with last and item 10 on the agenda be dealt with now”
- “That the meeting dissent from the Chair’s ruling that Kevin Rudd is eligible to vote”.
The standing orders of many organisations require machinery motions to go to a vote with very restricted debate, or with no debate.
If a dissent motion is moved, the Chair probably needs to vacate the Chair and hand it over to someone else until the dissent motion is dealt with, at which time you resume Chairing. If a motion to dissent is carried, the Chair must make an alternative ruling (sometimes making no ruling is an alternative).
Sometimes, the Chair can propose a machinery or process actions to the meeting, and members may be comfortable to accept it without a vote – in most cases you would call this a ruling. You might express it something like this: “As we are running out of time, I propose we deal with item 11 on the agenda now, and adjourn the other items to the next meeting. If no-one has a better suggestion, I’ll rule this way.” You would only do this sort of thing if you were confident it was necessary and would be approved. If you are not sure it would be approved, you could say this instead: “As we are running out of time, I propose we deal with item 11 on the agenda now, and adjourn the other items to the next meeting. Would someone like to move that?”
Points of order are process/machinery suggestions from attendees other than the Chair. People will say things like:
- “This speaker is off topic and you should rule her out of order”
- “Bob has spoken already in this debate – if he wants to speak twice then I want to speak twice”
- “Julie isn’t debating the issue, she’s just being nasty about people”
- “We’ve already decided this – we shouldn’t discuss it again and again and again”.
Points or Order are sometimes very helpful, pointing out things the Chair hasn’t noticed. The Chair must make a ruling on every point of order, and debate stops until you make your ruling, but a Chair needs to be alert to sneaky debaters who sometimes try to make a debating point rather than a procedural point; for example:
- “Point of order! The speaker is talking rubbish” or
- “Point of information … the facts are …”
are not points of order at all – they are debating arguments which should be made during debate.
You don’t have to agree with the point of order when you rule on it – you are allowed to say, and should say when appropriate “There’s no such thing as a ‘point of information’ – please sit down” or “That isn’t a point of order” or “I reject your point of order because Bob hasn’t spoken previously – that was a point of order he made earlier, which doesn’t count as speaking in the debate.”
Fifth, understand the rulings you can make.
Rulings are decisions the Chair makes, about how the meeting should run. You mightn’t realise it, but you are making implied rulings from the Chair all the time: who is eligible to speak, who speaks next, whether there have been enough speakers on a motion, calling an uncontroversial motion carried, and so on – the meeting just flows around this kind of ruling. Sometimes, though, when the meeting is going astray, you need to make a formal ruling, to get it back on track. Some examples:
- “I rule you are going off topic and need to refocus or finish speaking”
- “No, you can’t speak again – you’ve already spoken in this debate”
- “Your language is offensive to others present and I’m ruling you out of order. Sit down.”
- “We dealt with the issue you’re talking about last meeting. If you want to overturn a past decision, you need to move a rescission motion, and now isn’t the right time.”
Make rulings sparingly, and only when necessary or very desirable – if you make them too often, people will start to worry you’re suppressing democracy!
These are very basic rules about Chairing – there are whole books on the topic – so if you are going to Chair more often, you might want to think about more formal training.
A few final tips:
- If your meeting is a teleconference or video conference, check this out for some useful ideas, too: https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/teleconference-blues/.
- These documents have some useful general pointers and go into more detail on some topics:
You can download the whole of these three articles in one file, here http://bit.ly/2yeRE1y.