And how to find which ones don't need to be presented.
You've most likely been in meetings that drag on forever because of unnecessary committee reports. There is good news straight from the parliamentary procedure powers that be: you do not have to include “Time-Wasting Committee Reports” on your meeting agenda.
How is “Time-Wasting Committee Report” defined?
A “Time-Wasting Committee Report” is given dedicated space on the agenda to describe a committee's activities, even though the committee doesn’t have any items to present for action.
You don’t need Robert’s Rules to tell you these reports are eating up precious minutes during meetings. But parliamentary procedure can give guidance on how to tactfully, responsibly pare down the unnecessary verbal reports.
Steps to Save Time
The first step to remove time-wasting committee reports from the agenda is to ask each committee to submit an official written report and a completed committee activities form at least one day prior to when staff prints the agenda and meeting materials.
The committee activities form is a one-page summary of who’s been doing what (recently). The form is simple to fill out and only asks the committee to state the following information:
- Committee name
- List of committee members
- Summary of committee activities since the last meeting of the entire group
- List of action items for the entire group
Simply put, the Committee Activities Form is an at-a-glance method of determining which committees need a place on the agenda—and it simultaneously functions as a method of seeing which committees are actually functioning.
Once you have a Committee Activities Form for each committee, the second step to removing time-wasting committee reports from the agenda is to review the forms and give dedicated space on the agenda only to committees that have actions items to present to the entire group.
The rest of the reports should be printed for distribution at the meeting (or loaded to an internal website) so members can read them on their own time. Similarly, at the meeting, the committees that are placed on the agenda can simply rise and present the action items they’ve listed, leaving the rest of the report to be read later at members’ leisure.
One Final Point of Clarification
Even without any action items to present for a group decision, reports of committee activity are still important. My goal is certainly not to diminish the good, hard work that committees perform for any well-functioning organization. Sometimes active committees do need to be on the agenda, even without any action items: especially when they have vital information to communicate. But the status quo in many organizations is to allow all committees time to report, with little thought for the effect reports have on the length of the meeting and the valuable time of dedicated members.
Before your next meeting, give some thought to your agenda and consider whether you can do just fine without a verbal presentation from every committee.
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 this article first appeared. Used with permission.