March 10, 2020

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Andrew Bergen

Fist to Five to Achieve Consensus

Some years ago, I stumbled across a method for helping groups achieve consensus. Recently, I have pulled it out again while working with boards who are debating their Ends policies. Ends are really important – it’s the reason why the organization exists in the first place. And, because they’re so important, it is easy for board members to be passionate about them (which is a good thing). This passion, in my experience, has led boards to debate their Ends to the point where there is more divergence the longer the dialogue continues.  

However, this method, which is described below, has helped the last two groups I’ve worked with achieve consensus and feel positive about it. This method is called “Fist to Five Voting”. Most of us are used to voting either “yes” or “no.” Fist to Five is quality voting and can uncover either dissent or agreement very quickly. 

Basically, the moderator of the meeting can ask participants to hold up their hands and show either a fist, one finger raised, two fingers, etc.  

  • A fist means, “I vote NO.” or in consensus it means , “I object and will block consensus (usually on moral grounds).”  
  • 1 finger means, “I’ll just barely go along.” or, “I don’t like this but it’s not quite a no.” or, “I think there is lots more work to do on this proposal.” In consensus this indicates standing aside, or not being in agreement but not blocking the consensus.  
  • 2 fingers means “I don’t much like this but I’ll go along.” 
  • 3 fingers means, “I’m in the middle somewhere. Like some of it, but not all.” 
  • 4 fingers means, “This is fine. 
  • 5 fingers means, “I like this a lot, I think it’s the best possible decision.”  

If the group members are all displaying 4 or 5 fingers, there is very strong agreement for the decision. This has helped groups move forward in a hurry when they see their colleagues demonstrating strong agreement. Often times, the dialogue that happens comes from those who are already at a 4 but are “tweaking” the fine details of a decision. A demonstration of consensus helps people move ahead. 

However, if some members are showing less than a 4, the moderator can simply ask, “Joe, I see you have two fingers showing. What changes would help you increase your number?” When I have used this question, more often than not, others in the group are willing to work with “Joe” to help him resolve his concern. This also builds group commitment to the motion at hand. 

More information on this method can be found at: https://www.nasco.coop/sites/default/files/srl/Fist%20to%20Five%20as%20Voting.pdf. I’d encourage you to give it a try, perhaps for a decision that is not critical at first to allow others to get used to this way of voting. 

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