Over 70% of all meetings are unproductive and unnecessarily long. There are many solutions for that, but a well-structured agenda bears fruit. It can cut meeting time by up to 80% and drastically improve decision-making. Many organizations refer to Robert’s Rules of Order while making agendas. It has become the most popular manual for meetings for a good reason.

This time, you will learn why your organization should adopt Robert’s Rules of Order agenda for meetings. You will discover how to create a meeting agenda and prioritize business items according to Robert’s Rules.

Learn about the best agenda-building practices to keep meetings on track and get Robert’s Rules of Order meeting agenda template.

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Robert’s Rules of Order agenda

Robert’s Rule of Order (ROR) is a set of rules for running a parliamentary procedure developed in 1876 by Henry Martyn Robert, the US Army officer. 

This manual gets continuously updated and enumerates 12 editions. Henry Martyn Robert initially developed ROR to improve a parliamentary procedure for legislative bodies. 

Later, it became one of the most established guides for board gatherings, committee meetings, or special meetings across corporate and nonprofit organizations in the US.

It defines who writes the agenda, how to structure one, and how to run modern meetings. This manual provides recommendations for formal meetings, while a typical meeting agenda only suits informal meetings.

Meeting agenda: Robert’s Rules of Order process and benefits

Robert’s Rules of Order introduces several key aspects for productive meetings:

  • A quorum of the membership. It’s the minimum number of present members for the meeting decisions. Voting requires a two-thirds majority vote (more than half or 66%) and promotes a democratic approach to decision-making.
  • Strict agenda. It’s a timeline that makes meetings highly organized and predictable, preventing chaotic debates. 
  • Motion. It’s the official way of introducing topics for discussion during the meeting. Board members make main and secondary motions to bring up business items and to make decisions. Two-thirds vote is required to pass certain motions.

As a result, a board meeting must have enough participants, follow an agenda, and the attendees must use motions to meet basic Robert’s Rules requirements. 

The board secretary is the one who makes up the agenda. They’re also the one who prepares the agenda for sharing while making meeting invitations. They should also distribute one ahead of time, at least one week before the meeting to let board members prepare for the discussion.

Discover how to run a meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order and implement motions effectively.

Robert’s Rules of Order business meeting agenda provides the following benefits:

  • Your meetings get highly structured. Robert’s Rules implement a sequence of agenda items to streamline and organize meetings.
  • Every speaker has a chance for discussion. Participants discuss planned topics separately, and only one person can speak at a time.
  • You can easily record meeting minutes. It’s easy to record discussion results, decisions, and votes when participants follow a unified protocol.

To complement these benefits, organizations can use a Robert’s Rules of Order cheat sheet, a valuable quick reference guide summarizing the essential rules and procedures outlined in Robert’s Rules. This cheat sheet empowers board members with immediate access to key parliamentary guidelines during meetings, facilitating a decision-making process.

Using the order of business in Robert’s Rules of Order meeting agenda

To make a meeting agenda based on Robert’s Rules, one needs to establish an order of business first. The order of business is the sequence of discussed topics in a board meeting.

If your organization doesn’t have a specific order of business, you can use the standard one described in the 12th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order.

How to use Robert’s Rules of Order agenda guideline?

You can follow these steps to create a structured meeting agenda based on Robert’s Rules of Order.

Define a meeting purpose

Harvard Business Review advises defining the meeting objective for more structured decision-making. 

It will help you set the discussion direction and create a detailed agenda. The board secretary should discuss the meeting objective with the board chair to ensure it fits the organization’s governing documents. 

The wrong meeting objective: “Annual IT budgeting.”

The right meeting objective: “Identify annual IT budget’s areas for optimization.”

Prioritize agenda items in the order of business

A board secretary should follow Rober’s order of business while adding items to agenda. As for subitems, high-priority and urgent matters get placed higher in the order of business. In contrast, less important business items get closer to the end of the meeting.

The LinkedIn Meeting Planning community suggests tabling an agenda item into one of these categories for easier agenda planning:

  • High urgency and high importance 
  • High urgency and low importance
  • Low urgency and high importance
  • Low urgency and low importance

Collect the board’s feedback on your agenda

You can foster more engagement among board members by asking them for feedback on particular agenda items. Share your agenda draft with the board directors and ask them to emphasize the most important questions. 

Also, ask them about the issues they want to discuss at an upcoming meeting. Planning your agenda based on the directors’ visions improves engagement during the meeting and promotes accountability and decision-making.

Best practices to keep meetings on track

These three practices will help you revolutionize board meetings, keep them on track, and ensure all agenda items get covered.

Set time limits for agenda items

According to the Deloitte Board Practices survey, 54% of in-person board meetings last for five hours. This may be frustratingly long, considering the human brain can effectively maintain focus for 45 minutes until its learning capacity decreases.

Therefore, aim for as short meetings as possible by allocating fixed time for agenda items and speakers. Robert’s Rules suggests 10 minutes for each timed business item. You can also introduce 10-minute breaks every 45 minutes to let everyone refresh their attention.

By setting time limits, you will ensure that everyone has enough time to speak and that all agenda items get addressed during the meeting.

Make everyone participate

Mike Burns, Board Development Consultant and Partner at BWB Solutions, says many board members just sit through meetings and occasionally nod to C-suite reports.

A part of the problem is that board directors often have no role besides sitting and listening to meetings. The solution is to assign them tasks before, during, and after gatherings to facilitate active decision-making. 

Let’s say you assign a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to report on the budget in the annual meeting. 

When making an agenda, assign one or two board members with financial expertise to revise the financial report before the meeting and provide feedback in the boardroom. This way, board directors will have more activities in meetings than just listening or voting.

Use consent agendas

A consent agenda (Consent calendar in Robert’s Rules) is an agenda item that combines several non-controversial business matters. Robert’s Rules allow board members to consider these business items without amendments and discussions. 

Such business questions are grouped and put for approval in one motion instead of several separate votes. The consent calendar reduces routine discussions and emphasizes more important business matters.

Leverage the right technology

Despite only 15% of senior leaders having tech backgrounds, boards show significant technology advancements. 

Executives use board management software to facilitate in-person and virtual board meetings for non-profit organizations and businesses.

Board management software, including board portals, allows directors to combine the best Robert’s Rules practices in a centralized, intuitive workspace. Board portal features enable more productive board communications as they:

  • Enable digital agendas. You can easily create interactive digital agendas with action items and attach all necessary board materials. Adding and removing an item takes a few clicks, and you can enable custom time limits. Posting digital agendas is also much easier.
  • Facilitate communications. Software for board management enables messaging and voting tools to create custom surveys and collect feedback from board directors. You can share agenda drafts and receive timely feedback due to a robust notification system.
  • Improve board engagement. You can assign tasks with activity-tracking features to board members before, during, and after meetings. It promotes accountability and more lively discussions.
  • Create meeting minutes easily. Reliable board portals have built-in meeting minutes builders connected to agendas. Secretaries can note decisions in real time and easily approve and share meeting notes included with minutes.
  • Improve compliance. Meeting calendars, attendance trackers, and activity logs make it easy to follow quorum requirements and track the electronic voting position of each member.

Robert’s Rules of Order agenda format

Check detailed explanations for each meeting agenda item based on Robert’s Rules from start to finish. All meetings benefit from this format, not only formal ones:

Robert’s Rules of Order agenda format

Call to order

Call to order is the official beginning of the meeting. Under ROR, the presiding officer is the meeting facilitator. When they declare the call to order, the discussions begin, and the secretary starts recording meeting minutes.

Previous meeting minutes

The secretary must read meeting minutes aloud. Afterward, board members should approve them. They can amend meeting minutes by making respective motions.

However, you can omit this step if your organization shares previous meeting minutes with board members in advance. The chairman announces that this business is done, and there is no need to approve the meeting minutes formally. 

Standing committees, boards, and officers reports

Robert’s Rules of Order advises reporting from all committees, officers, and boards only in annual meetings

Attendees may bring up only reports relevant to the gathering’s objective in quarterly, monthly, or weekly meetings. Board members should make motions regarding meeting reports immediately.

Reports from special committees

Special committees should report similarly to standing committees sequentially according to the agenda. The meeting should include only relevant reports from special committees.

Special orders

Robert’s Rules classify special orders as time-sensitive business items appointed in advance, such as corporate resolutions, elections, special presentations, or emergencies.

Board directors must address special orders before other business questions. Any further business matter is paused until special orders receive desired attention.

Unfinished business and general orders

Unfinished business represents pending questions for the new meeting. These matters include agenda items classified as “unfinished” or “new” in the last meeting. 

General orders include pending top-priority agenda items not classified as special orders. These are both items from previous meetings and the current gathering.

New business

The new business agenda section reviews new business matters appointed in advance. Attendees can also introduce new topics and ideas that haven’t been on the agenda. Secretaries may plan extra time for this section as it holds the most discussions.


This section includes announcements for the current meeting and future gatherings. These may be news, updates, and reminders. However, the board chair can make urgent announcements at any time. 

Since board members cannot debate announcements, this section takes little time on the agenda.


When all business items get covered, participants can move to “adjourn” (finish) the meeting. The chair and other board members can also close the assembly before completing all business items. Members can schedule the next meeting if the agenda doesn’t have such a date.

Executive session

After the adjournment, the board may hold an executive session, which is a closed-door meeting restricted to certain board members or invited participants to discuss sensitive or confidential matters. It’s essential to keep accurate and detailed executive session board meeting minutes to ensure transparency and accountability. These minutes are typically reviewed only by authorized personnel and may require separate approval during the subsequent board meeting.

How to write an agenda with Robert’s Rules of Order without mistakes?

Avoid these three common mistakes while writing a meeting agenda according to Robert’s Rules.

Too many action items

Sometimes boards create bloated agendas with too many action items. They make longer meetings and hinder decision-making. 

Solution: According to Robert’s Rules, a meeting agenda should have up to 12-13 action items.

A meeting agenda may naturally include two-three sub items within reports, special orders, unfinished business, and new business

Non-agenda items

Some agendas include business items that don’t require specific actions. Irrelevant agenda items steal valuable time from questions and issues that matter.

Solution: Ensure your meeting agenda includes only actionable business matters with tasks and assigned collaborators.

Too many people involved

Too many meeting attendees may interfere with decision-making on larger boards. Some might feel uninvolved, while others may bring up too many controversial ideas, leading to decisional dead ends.

Solution: Pick each meeting attendee based on their meeting roles and assign action items to all of them. Harvard Business Review says eight people is enough to run effective meetings. 

Robert’s Rules of Order agenda template

Board-rooom.org offers the following board meeting agenda Robert’s Rules of Order template.

Check a few more examples of Robert’s Rules of Order meeting agenda below:

  1. General Robert’s Rules of Order agenda sample
  2. Robert’s Rules of Order agenda outline and the motion process
  3. Robert’s Rules of Order special meeting agenda
  4. Executive session meeting agenda
  5. Emergency agenda
Check an in-depth A-Z guide on creating a board meeting agenda and writing meeting minutes.

Key takeaways

Robert’s Rules of Order offers a structured meeting framework and contributes to more organized and manageable board meetings. 

To effectively implement Robert’s Rules agenda, you should define a clear meeting objective, prioritize agenda items, and accept board directors’ considerations. 

You can also set agenda timing, assign tasks to board members, and use consent agendas to keep meetings on track. 

A board portal allows you to control in-person and virtual meetings from start to finish, including attendance, agendas, tasks, and communications.

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Do you have to adopt an agenda?

If your organization uses the standard order of business according to Robert’s Rules, there is no need to adopt an agenda at the beginning of the meeting. 

Can an agenda be modified under Robert’s Rules of Order?

The adopted Robert’s Rules of Order meeting agenda can be modified before and during the assembly. Participants can change the agenda during the meeting by making respective motions if there is general consent.

Does the agenda need to be approved in Robert’s Rules?

The agenda must be approved at the beginning of each meeting if it differs from the standard order of business. 

What’s the order of the agenda according to Robert’s Rules?

The order of the agenda is the preferable sequence of business items in the meeting. It should be the following: call to order, approval of meeting minutes, committee reports, special orders, unfinished business, new business, and adjournment.

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Casey Johnson Marketing strategist
Casey Johnson is a seasoned marketing strategist specializing in board portals. With over a decade of experience, she spearheads comprehensive marketing campaigns to enhance brand visibility and drive growth. Casey orchestrates content plans, conducts market research, and collaborates with content creators to ensure impactful marketing strategies.
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