Leadership Notes #26 – Motions: How they work

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

[Toward the end of September, the National Association of Parliamentarians will be holding their National Convention. At this event, the new edition (11th) of “Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised” will be released. In honor of that, for the next month, we will be focusing on parliamentary procedure. This is the first of the ‘motions’ sub-series]

In previous works in this series, we have eluded to the concept of “motions” in meetings to get things done. But what are they all about, and how do you deal with them?

In most cases, all the decisions an organization will make will be due to ‘motions’ being made by the members, discussed, and then decided upon. (in cases where you have MEMBERS making decisions vs just your officers) How this is done is really very easy, but can be confusing to those not familiar with them.

Motions are handled in this seven step process:

1. Obtain the floor
2. Make the motion
3. Have it seconded
4. Chair repeats it
5. Motion is discussed/debated
6. Vote is taken
7. Result is given

How is each step handled?

1. OBTAIN THE FLOOR. Before you can state your motion, you must ‘obtain the floor’. And you can’t do this unless there is nothing else pending. In other words, if the group is currently working on another matter, your motion will have to wait. Hopefully, your chair will say “Is there any other new business?” once other matters are finished, indicating it’s ok to put forth something new. This is your chance to make your motion. Obtain the chairs attention, by either raising your hand or standing (depending on the size of the group and its customs). Hopefully, the chair will recognize you and you can make your motion (The chair may say “the Chair recognizes…”)

2. MAKE THE MOTION. Now that you have the floor, make your motion. Start it off by saying “I move that”, and clearly state your motion. Do NOT say “I’d like to make a motion…”, or “I make a motion that…” or “I so move…” or the like. Do NOT spend time explaining or justifying the motion (you’ll get your chance later). Make it short and sweet, and sit down. IF the motion is a little complex, have it written down and give copies to the chair and secretary.

3. THE MOTION IS SECONDED. Now that you have stated the motion, it needs to be seconded. Seconding ONLY means that at least one person feels the group should consider the motion. The seconder is NOT obligated to vote for the motion or be in favor of it. (they may in fact be against it, and may be seconded it so that it can be considered and defeated!). All that is needed is someone to say “Second!” If no one does, the chair can prompt for a second (“Is there a second”). IF THERE IS NO SECOND, the motion is lost and that’s it (Chair “Motion is lost due to lack of a second. Is there any new business?”). If there is a second, we move to the next step.

NOTE: in small committees (12 or less), you may dispense with the need for a second.

4. CHAIR REPEATS IT. The chair then says “It has been moved and seconded that…” This make sure everyone is clear on what we will be discussing.

5. MOTION IS DISCUSSED/DEBATED. At this point, members can now discuss the motion. As noted in previous points, we are discussing ONLY the motion. The old style is for the chair to say “Are you ready for the question?”, but it is simpler to say “Is there any discussion?” THE MAKER OF THE MOTION gets to speak first, by the way. This is now their chance to expound on the motion, and convince people to vote for it. Afterwards, everyone else gets to speak. It is a good idea for people to make it clear where they stand by saying “I speak for the motion/I speak in favor of the motion” or “I speak against the motion/I speak in opposition to the motion” and then explain why. Should there be a lull in those obtaining the floor to speak about the motion; the chair may prompt for further debate by saying “Is there any further discussion?”

There ARE limits to how long you can speak and how often. The standard rule is twice on the same motion for 10 minutes each. The organization is free to change this for the organization all the time (thru a “Standing Rule” of the organization) or for that meeting or for just that motion.

6. VOTE IS TAKEN. Once it is clear everyone has had their say, OR someone has forced the matter by ‘calling the question’ and ending debate, the chair will put the motion to a vote. Before doing so, the chair should again repeat the motion so that everyone is clear as to what they are voting on (helpful if the motion was changed thru amendments). The chair should say “The question is on the adoption of the motion to…”. And then put the matter to a vote (see the Note on Voting).

7. RESULT IS GIVEN. After the vote is taken, the chair needs to announce the results: “the ayes have it and the motion is adopted” or “The noes have it, and the motion is lost”, or the like. As noted on Voting, you do not give a count of the vote, just who prevailed.


SECOND- as noted, and which bears repeating: Seconding just means that at least one person feels the group should consider the motion. The seconder is NOT obligated to vote for the motion or be in favor of it. (they may in fact be against it, and may be seconded it so that it can be considered and defeated!). Seconding is not needed in small committees or groups less than 12. Also, once seconded, you can’t withdraw your second. And, if debate begins before a second is formally given (which it shouldn’t), then the second is assumed.

MINUTES- what goes into the minutes? The motion as it was voted on, who made it (don’t need who seconded it), and the outcome (adopted or lost). “It was moved by John Smith and seconded that we increase our dues to $100 a year. The motion passed.”

AMENDMENTS- during discussions on the motions, the members CAN make changes to the motion (add, remove, reword, change). These are call amendments. This will be covered in a future Note.