Key Decision-Making: Robert’s Rules of Order vs Consensus

By Riley Mills July 24, 2023

If your board needs to come to a decision quickly, you may be wondering what the best approach is. The solution to this can vary depending on the board and the type of decision-making practices in place.

Let’s talk about the formal approach – Robert’s Rules of Order, a manual of parliamentary procedure written in 1876 by Henry Martyn Robert. These rules were adapted from those of Congress. Often, Robert’s Rules of Order come into play when a board is faced with a decision that has high legal implications, or when there are ethical or compliance-related considerations.

The following are the key procedures represented in Robert’s Rules of Order. First, let’s dive into the types of motions you can make:

And then, there are the six steps that every motion has to follow:

  1. Motion: A member rises or raises a hand to signal the chairperson.
  2. Second: Another member seconds the motion.
  3. Restate motion: The chairperson restates the motion.
  4. Debate: The members debate the motion.
  5. Vote: The chairperson restates the motion, and then first asks for affirmative votes, and then negative votes. Any abstaining votes are also recorded.
  6. Announce the vote: The chairperson announces the result of the vote and any instructions.

If the board is in obvious agreement on a motion, the board chair can jump straight to stating, “If there are no objections, we will adopt the motion to…” Then pause to allow for objections. If there are none, then the chair would say, “Hearing no objections, (state the motion) is adopted.” Pretty simple.

Now, if there are objections, the board chair would open up for debate, then move to a vote, and then would announce the result of the vote. Robert’s Rules of Order only require a majority to pass a motion, so whoever has the highest count – yays or nays – wins the vote.

If the decision your board is making requires a less formal approach, then a “consensus” vote may be a more fitting approach.

A consensus vote requires that all board members agree unanimously on the decision, or motion, being made. Robert’s Rules of Order, as you’ll recall, only requires a majority vote to come to a decision. While reaching a consensus may require more deliberation amongst board members, it’s also an assurance that democracy is being upheld in that each voice matters equally.  Decision-making in a consensus model can also nurture a sense of group discernment that fosters a spirit of unity rather than a hierarchical process.

If the topic at hand is clearly one that your board will feel unanimously for or against, a consensus vote will get you your answer fairly quickly. The collective may feel strongly about a topic that has been a part of previous conversations, clueing you in as to whether or not utilizing consensus versus Robert’s Rules of Order is more effective.

For more information contact MHS Association for tools and resources, including our Board Chair Toolkit.



Robert's Rules of Order

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