4 Ways to Make an Agenda Work for You
Consider which approach may work best for your meetings.
4 Ways to Make an Agenda Work for You
Image: Benjamin Child / Unsplash

Robert’s Rules just wouldn’t have clout if it didn’t provide a standard order of business. It provides a six-part agenda that can get you started:

  1. Reading and approval of minutes
  2. Reports from officers, boards, and standing committees
  3. Reports from special committees
  4. Special orders of business
  5. Unfinished business and general business
  6. New business

Most assemblies use this basic plan. Fine.

But have you ever considered whether this approach is efficient for your group? Likely, it’s not. Consider #2. How will you decide who should report first, or report at all? And why delay the big, new, exciting topics (#6) till last?

Here’s today’s good news—there are other options that may work better. (And yes, it’s okay per Robert’s Rules to adopt a different order of business than is outlined above if a majority of the entire membership agrees).

1. Priority Agenda

This option places the most important items first and then moves downward. For example, don’t leave the coverage of your new five-year strategic plan till the end of a two-hour meeting when everyone is exhausted. Put it at the top. Look at what needs to be accomplished and prioritize.

2. Consent Agenda

This tactic is one of my favorites because it screams “efficiency.” You simply group non-controversial topics into one vote—one big item on your agenda.

Specifically, it would work like this: Present the agenda. Tell everyone, “Notice the consent agenda at the top of our order of business. It includes items which will not be discussed today because we believe they are non-controversial. We’ll take one vote on all of them—a yes or no on all.”

And then you ask everyone, “Is there anything that you would like to pull off of the consent agenda?” (Why? Maybe there’s an item someone feels is actually controversial or needs to be discussed for a bit.) To be clear, if any member asks to remove an item from the consent agenda, that item should be removed on their request. No vote about the removal is needed.

Once the above question is asked, a quick, one-vote process takes care of all the items remaining on the consent agenda: “All those in favor of adopting the items on the consent agenda, say ‘Aye.’ All those opposed, say ‘No.’”

There’s no danger—anything can be removed if requested. And the advantage is productivity—no unnecessary debate on small points about which no one disagrees!

3. Subject-Based Agenda

A third option groups topics by large categories. Example: Discuss everything about specific line items of the strategic plan at the same time—who, when, budget, everything. This method allows focus and, therefore, progress.

4. Presiding Agenda

And #4 might help a presider in particular. On a presider’s agenda copy only, add a column to the agenda, and type special notes there (e.g., Recognize Jane on this topic. Carlos will have a report on this topic.) An annotated copy will support efficiency for leadership.

Sarah E. Merkle is one of five lawyers in the world to have earned the two highest parliamentarian certifications. For nearly 15 years, she has used her expertise to help local, regional, and national clients make decisions that honor the law but efficiently move business forward without disruption. She is the editor of The Law of Order: A Resource on Parliamentary Procedure & the Law, where a version of this post first appeared. Used with permission.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.


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