Back in the late 1800’s, an army officer named Henry Martyn Robert wrote a distillation of Parliamentary Procedure (which was used by the American Congress at the time), to help people run smooth and effective meetings, whether it be a church, local government gathering, or other “deliberative societies.” Today, nearly every type of organization, from Fortune 500 companies to small-town PTAs, use Robert’s Rules of Orderto keep their meetings focused. They use the procedure because it works.
Though many co-op and condo boards of directors already use Robert’s Rules or some variation of them, many board members could help themselves by better understanding them. If they can grasp the procedures well, boards can apply them in a way that is more pertinent to their particular deliberations, simplifying the process while making it more effective.
Keeper of the Rules
Robert’s Rules of Order was created and became the Bible of meeting procedure almost by accident. Henry Martyn Robert was a general and engineering officer in the U.S. Army who was asked to preside over a public meeting in San Francisco. Only one problem: He didn’t know how to run a meeting. Still, he tried, and the meeting was chaos. The experience made him determined to learn about parliamentary law.
So he studied the few books available on the subject at that time. Because of his military duties, Robert was transferred to different parts of the United States, where he found meetings in anarchy, with each member having differing ideas of correct procedure. To bring sanity to these running meetings, he wrote Robert's Rules of Order, as it came to be called. First published in February 1876, the book’s original name was “Pocket Manual Rules Of Order For Deliberative Assemblies.”
Robert’s Rules have not changed drastically over the years but they have been repeatedly tweaked and explained, to help readers make the most of them. The book is in its eleventh edition (2011), and is still owned and run by the family, with 92-year-old Henry M. Robert III, of Annapolis, MD, at the helm of the enterprise. Growing up as the son of a Naval Academy professor, Henry III didn’t fully realize the import of the family legacy until he became involved in the family business in the 1950s. He is now the senior co-author of the last five editions of Robert’s Rules. But back when he was young, the “Rules” were a common topic of conversation around his house.