November 2015: The Power of a Motion

AFS-2015-President-Ron-Essig

AFS President Ron Essig

We’ve probably all experienced the following scenario. An idea surfaces during lengthy discussion in a meeting that could move a group forward. Several meeting participants agree that the idea is a good one. With luck, this idea is recorded in meeting minutes; however, it is never acted on later. With typical member turnover in any group, it may be months or years before the issue resurfaces. Then members struggle to recall that good idea and why it was not implemented.

What can prevent this scenario from occurring is taking action at the time an idea surfaces. For an informal group, this might simply be the leader sensing buy-in from most members and proceeding in that direction. This is a typical process in many AFS committees, which have relatively small numbers of members. However, in larger AFS Units—Sections, Divisions, and Chapters—there needs to be a bit more formality to maintain an orderly process. I am a poor constitutional consultant, but I have learned that the motion process within Robert’s Rules of Order is a very powerful tool indeed. It is what moves forward the Society, its Units, and other organizations that you may be part of in your work and personal life.

According to Robert’s Rules, a motion is simply a formal proposal by a member that the group take a certain action. The process involves someone making a motion for action that is germane to the particular agenda topic. That person should state the exact wording of the motion. It can be modified through subsequent dialogue with the chair of the meeting. Then if modified, the chair should restate the motion and obtain a second to the motion before it can be debated. The purpose of a second is to indicate that more than one member of the group agrees that the motion should be discussed. The seconder does not have to agree with the motion. After discussion, either a vote is taken or the motion is declared passed by unanimous consent.

An effective strategy with motions is to get support behind it before you introduce it. This means doing some homework vetting it prior to the meeting. You don’t want your idea to fall on deaf ears and go nowhere. Having at least a couple members on your side may help sway the conversation to the conclusion you want. Depending on complexity, it is desirable to write out proposed motions either before the meeting or during the meeting. That way, there is no uncertainty in exactly what is being requested since misstating a key word can make a big difference.

Sometimes the group struggles to come to a consensus on wording of a motion. This is when a chair can take advantage of a meeting break to allow time for a couple members to work on wording that captures the flavor of the points raised. After the break, one of those individuals offers the motion. Hopefully, there is a second to the motion, and the ensuing discussion might be more straightforward. There can be many permutations to the simplified process described here, but it is not my intent, nor my expertise, to discuss them here.

AFS is fortunate to have the appointed position of constitutional consultant. Each new person taking this on has a one-year apprenticeship with their predecessor, so he/she is well-trained and hits the job running. This individual is well versed in Robert’s Rules and the AFS Constitution, Rules, and Procedures. They also have to qualify for membership in the National Association of Parliamentarians. They draw on that knowledge base to offer constructive criticism of draft motions on a variety of AFS issues, including Unit bylaw changes. It is particularly important for the constitutional consultant to review draft motions to come before the Management Committee or the Governing Board. Getting clear wording will save considerable time debating what the desired purpose of the motion really is. There have been several examples in my officer tenure when motions have been sent back for reworking, which could have been avoided with constitutional consultant input beforehand.

I hope these words encourage you to offer motions during business meetings of your AFS Unit. If you don’t have the wording just right, it is likely that someone else will offer amended language that will work better for the group. The power of a motion can only be realized if it is presented to the group. Take action! Make motions!

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