Beyond Robert’s Rules of Order
The blog has been quiet for the last few days because Jon and I decided to stick a short vacation between work and picking up one of our sons from camp where he’s been a counselor this summer. (Short vacation hops to Cape Cod and Portland, Maine – lovely)
On the way to Friends Camp this year, I had the chance to think about the consensus decision-making process that is used by the Society of Friends and how foreign it feels from Robert’s Rules of Order that so many nonprofit boards try to use.
I was fortunate that I began my nonprofit board service on a board that used Quaker Consensus Process — the area committee of the Rhode Island office of the American Friends Service Committee. Though I’m not a Quaker, I soon came to value a meeting process that sought building unity as a goal of its decision-making. I’ve always felt that it was a great starting place for my work as a facilitator.
I had the opportunity early on to compare AFSC’s process with policy-making forum at Amnesty International USA which used Robert’s Rules.
For those of you who’d like more on the differences, this article on Governing.ca outlines a few of the differences between Robert’s Rules and Consensus Process.
First, I have to say, I never felt that I got a good handle on Robert’s Rules complex parliamentary process. It was more satisfying to me to participate in AFSC’s consensus process. However, for a consensus process to work well, the participants have to be willing to observe the norms of the group. There are clearly pros and cons to each different type of process.
What I appreciated about Quaker process is its goal to enable the emergence of an action or agreement that has a high degree of unity and support from the group – without creating winners and losers.
What I’ve found especially striking is the difference in the role of the person who is facilitating the meeting. I’ve always felt that the role of the chair in a Robert’s Rules controlled meeting is to ensure a tidy and controlled process that gets to a vote. The word “chair” carries with it a high sense of authority, control and deference to.
The facilitator in Quaker process is called a clerk and not a chair. Just the name alone signals that the clerk’s purpose is subservient to the group (I’ve always felt that too many board chairs think they run the organization or the board — more on that another time). The clerk as facilitator works in partnership with the other participants to share responsibility for a meeting process that allows dialogue, participation, and thoughtful reflection.
Anyway, just a quick thought on a Saturday afternoon that I’ll write more about later.
I’m thankful that my children (all three attended Friends Camp) have had the benefit of attending a camp where they too can experience a different way of being in group and making decisions.