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Dialing Down a Rambunctious Member
Robert’s Rules of Order Will Keep a Club Meeting on Track
The film classic 12 Angry Men is a psychological drama about a jury charged with determining the fate of a young man accused of murder. In just two hours, a single dissenting juror slowly causes the rest of the jurors to reconsider their initial opinions — even, eventually, Juror No. 10, an angry, pushy man whose modus operandi in life seems to be to needle and cajole and rant until he gets his own way.
While investment clubs never hold the fate of another person in their hands, they do often need to reach a consensus on many decisions. Sometimes, however, a single domineering member can intentionally or inadvertently derail a club. Perhaps the member has stronger powers of persuasion than others in the club. It may be that the member backs up demands with bullying behavior, thwarting discussion and dissent. A single formidable member can disrupt any investment club’s operations. The condition, which I’ve named the One Overbearing Member Syndrome (OOMS), can be fatal if not treated successfully. So how can a club deal with OOMS?
In most cases, the key to resolving this malady comes from creating a structured environment for club meetings and club business. Here are a few ways that clubs can ensure they’re creating a safe, protected and productive setting for their meetings and overall operations.
First, make sure each meeting has a set agenda. It’s the club president’s job to create the agenda for each meeting. Any member who wishes to discuss buying or selling a company should inform the president before the meeting. If too many items are presented for inclusion on the agenda, the president may defer one or more items to the following meeting.
The agenda should be distributed to members before the meeting as well, a task that usually works well via email. This allows members to review the items up for discussion and to conduct their own research or gather their own thoughts before the meeting. This can help prevent debates from continuing endlessly into the night, as well as limit the opportunities for an overbearing member to dominate.
Club meetings should also be conducted in a structured way. When it comes to running a meeting, the standard format is defined in Robert’s Rules of Order, the timeless set of guidelines for deliberation and debate within an organization. Although the rules are occasionally revised, you can find inexpensive editions at any bookstore or summaries on many websites.
For instance, according to Robert’s Rules, there are six steps to making, debating and voting on a motion:
1. A member is recognized by the presiding member and makes a motion.
2. Another member seconds the motion.
3. The presiding member restates the motion. Once the motion is made and seconded, no other motion related to business generally should be considered until the motion on the table is resolved.
4. The members debate the motion. During the discussion, the presiding partner should be on the lookout for consensus that may be building. When that point is reached, the presiding partner should ask whether the body is ready to vote and then move on to step No. 5.
5. The presiding member asks for affirmative and negative votes. Alternatively, the motion may be tabled until a future meeting.
6. The chair announces the result of the voting, instructs the action to be undertaken by the appropriate person and then introduces the next item of business.
Following these six steps consistently can help streamline your meetings and reduce the chance that it might devolve into anarchy.
Most obviously, the presiding partner’s role in overseeing member discussions can have an enormous impact on a club’s ultimate success. A club president is part diplomat, part babysitter, part guidance counselor and part sheriff. That doesn’t mean the president has to wield power with an iron fist, but using a few well-practiced phrases at appropriate times can keep club members focused. A simple few words of advice can go a long way toward defusing tense situations. For example: “It doesn’t look like we’re making headway on this issue, and our time is limited. How about if we table this motion and resume discussions at the next meeting after we’ve all had time to do some more research?”
Another help in creating a structured environment is to make sure that your club has an investment policy statement in place that outlines how you and your partners intend to build a portfolio. It’s important that all members agree on a unified approach to investing, and your policy statement will delineate that philosophy. Your statement may develop and change over time.
Having clear rules for buying and selling a stock is also a way to keep club meetings running smoothly. Putting down in writing the five to 10 key considerations and questions that your club ponders when it reviews companies will help keep discussions on track, limiting the chance for any member to throw a monkey wrench into the works. Again, as a club matures, members will doubtless modify their expectations and clarify the rules that work best for them in selecting and selling stocks.
In the end, the club’s president is charged with the task of overseeing each meeting, which involves a balance of keeping an eye on the clock (so that no single item consumes too much time during the meeting); keeping the peace (so that debate remains cordial at all times); and keeping the sanity (both his/hers and of all partners!).
Developing and adhering to the kinds of structure and discipline described above will reduce the impact of OOMS — and quite possibly improve your club’s investment performance as well.
Douglas is ICLUBcentral's product manager, helping develop the company's programs including Toolkit 6, myICLUB.com, and the Investor Advisory Service. He is also the author of several investing books, including The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Direct Stock Investing, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Investing, The Armchair Millionaire, and Investment Clubs for Dummies.