Each company has different rules about meetings. Some follow an informal process, while others require a more formal structure. As a manager or business owner, it's important to know how to conduct and end both formal and informal meetings. This will improve communication and lead to a more productive outcome.

What Does It Mean to Adjourn a Meeting?

The term "adjourn" comes from the Latin words Ad (to) and Diurnus (daily). Although many people use the term interchangeably with calling an end to a meeting, "adjourn" actually means moving a meeting, or an agenda item, to another day. For example, a company's board members may adjourn a meeting when it's simply not possible to discuss the issues at hand because key information is missing. Adjournment means the meeting will be resumed later when everyone is prepared to discuss the issue in question. It's not the same as terminating or concluding a meeting, when all the issues are resolved.

What are the Rules of Process for Meetings? 

Some organizations, notably courts of law, universities, governmental agencies and large organizations follow established rules for the conduct of formal meetings. Under Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, for example, anyone can pass a motion to adjourn a meeting in certain circumstances, for example:

  • In the absence of a quorum
  • As set out in the organization's bye-laws
  • When board members reach the end of the agenda
  • In case of an emergency or immediate danger, such as the fire alarms going off in the building.

While smaller businesses are unlikely to follow Robert's rules, they do provide a simple framework for "officially" adjourning a meeting.

Procedures to Adjourn a Meeting

A meeting can be adjourned either in the beginning or at any stage. If you're the chairman, make a plan to ensure everything goes smoothly. After discussing the agenda, check if anyone wishes to make a motion to adjourn the meeting. Ask for one by saying "Do I hear a motion to adjourn?" The motion to adjourn should clearly specify the time and date of the next meeting as well as any urgent matters that require special session before the next general meeting. Under Robert's rules, the motion needs to be seconded and cannot be amended or debated.

A meeting can be adjourned without a motion if the quorum is not present or in case of an emergency. In case that day is a public holiday, the meeting can be adjourned until the next working day, at the same time and place. An adjourned meeting will follow the same order of business as the original meeting. In the closing remarks, the chairman may discuss the day and time for the next meeting. He may also provide contact information, thank the participants and make last-minute reminders. In case the adjournment is for 90 days or more, each participant will be given a notice of the date and place.

Adjourning a Less Formal Meeting

Not all meetings are formal; therefore, not all meetings require a motion to adjourn. Sales meetings are a good example. They are certainly important, and all sales reps are expected to attend. But the purpose of sales meetings is for the sales manager to relay information to the staff, perhaps offer tips and encouragement, or to admonish those who fell short of goals or failed to turn in required paperwork. There will be no voting during the meeting, however, because the sales manager's opinion is the one that matters. After conducting a meeting where one person is in charge, it would be silly to ask for a motion to adjourn. The sales manager may ask if there are any questions, and after answering them, simply say, "That's all I wanted to cover today. Take some of these new brochures as you leave and use them to explain the incredible benefits of this great product!"

Meetings where managers gather to discuss problems and solutions are another example. The managers don't have time for a formal meeting with motions and seconds, nor do they need one. They know what the meeting is about, so no agenda is necessary. No one is taking minutes. They'll continue discussing these issues at the next meeting, so technically they could adjourn the meeting. But a formal end to the meeting would be awkward and inappropriate. Chances are, the meeting would be scheduled for a finite amount of time, such as 30 or 60 minutes. When the time is up, someone will say, "Let's pick this discussion up next month" while others are dashing out the door to get back to work.