What’s the motion?

“How do you focus a discussion that seems to be getting nowhere?”

This question at a planning workshop I was facilitating, reminded me that for people new to directorship, or even to committee work, this is a foundation question.

Not all agenda items have formal motions recorded on the agenda paper, and some do require conversation before a preferred direction can be identified. That said, the sooner the meeting has a proposal framed, the sooner debate can focus on what the meeting agrees to (or opposes*).

The meeting chair has a key role in judging when to call for a motion, however all participants need to recognise their responsibility to help the chair (and the group) to focus the debate and move to a decision as expeditiously as possible.

Adherence to Standing Orders or meeting rules may feel too formal for boards or committees of small not-for-profit entities wanting to preserve a sense of collegiality at the table. Even if you don’t refer to formal procedures though, it helps everyone to make decisions more efficiently if some basic conventions are established.

It’s fascinating to see how often in a meeting that as soon as some brave soul puts draft motion wording on screen or on paper, everyone else feels empowered to wield their ‘red pens‘ to improve the draft.

The person who makes this contribution is the one who shapes the debate of course. In seizing the initiative, they have a strong influence on the outcome. Even where the original draft is replaced entirely, the preferred option was only identified in response to their draft, and so they helped the group in making their decision.

There are many other observations that could be made about meeting dynamics, and effective decision making, but this simple one about the importance of having a motion to debate is a key one for new directors and committee members.

*All motions should be framed positively of course. If the meeting doesn’t agree to the motion, the members will vote against it.

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