The three major roles in a board meeting: Introduction

Each needs to play their part correctly for a successful meeting.

In my role as an educator with Michigan State University Extension, I am often asked about how to make meetings more effective. Boards are as different as the people who serve on them, so defining “effective” is not always an easy thing to do. As a parliamentarian with the National Association of Parliamentarians, however, I feel confident to discuss the importance of rules of order and parliamentary principles in making meetings effective.

I like to stress the importance of following these principles to all of the participants in a meeting. Meetings are more effective when board members, and any guests or public present, understand their role in the meeting. Everyone present should have some knowledge of the rules of the organization, and know how to engage with each other during meetings.

Specific responsibilities of being a member and duties of the leadership of an organization such as the president, secretary, treasurer and committee chairs should be defined in the bylaws or other governing documents. But there are some universal roles that crossover between organizations, despite differences in mission, organizational structure or governing rules. With the help of Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th Edition, I have come up with a list of general responsibilities to define how members and non-members should behave and interact with each before during and after a meeting. An understanding of these roles and knowing the differences and similarities between them can be helpful to active community members as they serve in these different capacities across organizations. In general, there are three roles to play in a meeting: The presiding officer (or chair of the meeting); the board members and the public (or non-members present at a meeting).

Responsibilities of the chair of the meeting:

  • Conduct the meeting according to the agenda.
  • Protect the rights of the members.
  • Set the tone of the meeting and serve as a good example.
  • Encourage appropriate input.
  • Reach closure and move on.
  • Mediate conflict.
  • Represent the board; maintain impartiality and a professional image.
  • All other duties as assigned by law, bylaws, board rules, custom.

The responsibility of board members:

  • Attend meetings
  • Have working knowledge of rules and other governing documents.
  • Be prepared.
  • Participate in deliberation.
  • A right to enforcement of the rules.
  • Represent the opinions of constituency or electorate.
  • All other duties as assigned by law, bylaws, board rules, custom.

The responsibility of guests (non-members and the public):

  • Must obey meeting rules.
  • Do not deliberate or vote.
  • Should behave with respect for others and expect that in return from the board.

For more details on each of these roles and responsibilities read:

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