Tough Issues? Use Parliamentary Procedures

GavelThere are situations when medical groups need to be very formal when dealing with issues. Sometimes a group has severe intra-group conflict. Sometimes the group is split nearly down the middle on an issue and can’t seem to make a key decision. Other times group meetings are so large that you must use a more formal decision-making process.

Typically such situations call for the use of parliamentary procedures (sometimes referred to as parliamentary law).

“The application of parliamentary law is the best method yet devised to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.”
[Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised [RONR (11th ed.), Introduction, p. liii]

Most organizations use Robert’s Rules of Order when they use parliamentary procedures. Robert’s Rules of Order is the standard for facilitating discussions and group decision-making.  In fact, the By-laws of many groups call for meetings to be managed using Robert’s Rules of Order.  Copies of the rules may be found at most bookstores, and summaries can be found on-line.

Although these rules may seem long and involved, having an agreed upon set of rules actually makes meetings run easier.

A detailed review of Robert’s Rules of Order is beyond the scope of this article.  However, here are the  motions most often used in medical group meetings:

  1. Motion: A motion introduces a new piece of business or proposes a decision or action. Typically it is made by saying “I move that…” and requires a second before discussion takes place.
  2. Amend: This motion is used to change a motion already under consideration. It might be that you like the idea proposed but not exactly as offered. To do so, you would say that “I would like to amend the motion on the floor as follows….” This requires a second, and then a majority vote to decide if the amendment is accepted. In some situations, a “friendly amendment is made” and if the person making the motion agrees with the suggested change, the amended motion may be voted on without a separate vote to approve the amendment.
  3. Commit: This is used to place a motion in committee. It requires a second and a majority vote.
  4. Table: This motion lays aside the business at hand such that it will be considered at a later time. For example, “I make a motion to table the discussion until the next meeting. In the meantime we will get more information so that we can better discuss the issue.” This motion requires a second and a majority vote.
  5. Question: To end debate immediately, the question is called by saying “I call the question.” A vote is immediately held with no further discussion to end debate. A second is required, and then the Question motion is voted on. A 2/3 vote is required to pass, and if it is passed, the motion on the floor is voted on immediately without further discussion.

Before the vote is taken, it is critical for the Meeting Manager to repeat the motion. Then the Meeting Manager puts the question by saying “Those in favor of the motion that (repeating the motion) raise your hands.” Count the votes, and then say “those opposed raise your hands.”

If you are using secret ballot, the Meeting Manager asks each person to vote. As a note, the Meeting Manager should be very specific as to what to write on the secret ballot. Ask those voting to write out the word “Yes” or “No” as sometimes a “Y” can look like an “N.”

After counting the votes, the Meeting Manager should say “the motion is carried,” or “the motion is lost.”

A majority vote is more than half the votes cast by persons legally entitled to vote. A 2/3 vote means that at least 2/3 of the votes cast by persons legally entitled to vote. A tie vote is “lost” since it is not a majority.


Please contact me if you’d like to discuss this post.

Will Latham

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