The techniques described below are among the most popular, and also easiest to use, when it comes to helping teams make decisions reasonably quickly.
Note: As is the case with so many things in a coaching context, it’s up to the facilitator to recognize which of these techniques (or a technique not described here) is appropriate, depending on the particular context within which the team is operating.
Roman voting is a means of saying yes, maybe, or no, using a simple hand gesture.
To use this technique, the facilitator polls the group on a particular topic and asks them to indicate where they stand, such that:
- Thumbs Up: I support this idea.
- Thumbs Sideways: I am ambivalent; I can “live with” this idea. While it may not meet all of my needs, I don’t have strong reservations.
- Thumbs Down: I cannot live with this idea and have concerns that must be heard by the group before we move forward.
If there are no thumbs down, this is a reasonably strong indicator that the team is comfortable with moving forward. However, before doing so, make sure you understand what motivated anyone with a Thumbs Sideways vote to feel less than enthused about the idea.
Why is it called Roman voting?
After the film Gladiator was released, the notion of “Roman Voting” entered the popular imagination, since the film portrayed what has been suggested by some historians, that crowds watching gladiatorial combat would indicate whether they wanted a combatant’s life to be spared via a hand gesture. (Even if this was in fact a common practice, there is still some debate as to which hand gestures might actually have been used.)
Fist-to-five, also known as “Fist of Five,” is another approach that utilizes hand gestures to assess the extent to which there is team consensus on a topic.
Note: It is important to restate that in this context, “consensus” means that everyone in the group can support the decision; they don’t all have to think it’s the best decision, but that they can all live with it.
To use this technique the facilitator restates a decision the group may choose to make and asks everyone to show their level of support, were they to move forward with that decision. Each person responds by showing a fist or a number of fingers that corresponds to their opinion.
As a facilitator, you can frame what each vote means any way you like. Here is one common set of definitions:
- Fist. I am completely opposed to the proposal.
- 1 Finger. I have major reservations about the proposal.
- 2 Fingers. I have some concerns about the proposal that I would like to discuss with the group.
- 3 Fingers. I’m not in total agreement with the proposal but feel comfortable enough to move forward without further discussion.
- 4 Fingers. I think it’s a good idea/decision and agree with it.
- 5 Fingers. It’s a great idea and I fully support it.
It’s up to the facilitator to work with the team to decide what the minimum number of fingers is for the team to move on without further discussion. For instance, if anyone holds up fewer than three fingers, then the working agreement for this exercise might be that they should be given the opportunity to state their objections and the team should address their concerns. Teams continue the Fist-to-Five process until they achieve consensus (e.g., a minimum of three fingers) or determine they must move on to another topic.
Unlike the preceding two techniques, dot voting does not make use of hand gestures. Dot voting serves as a visual means of determining what is most important among a reasonably small set of ideas/topics to a group or team.
A common approach to facilitate dot voting is as follows:
- Write all of the ideas/topics down on a white board (whether virtual or physical) or on note cards or Post-it notes.
- Make sure there is shared understanding of what each item means
- Inform the group they have x number of votes (three is a common number of votes), where They can place all of their votes on the same item, or they can distribute them among two or more items.
- — For collocated groups, give them a writing utensil and have them mark their vote, where each vote is a dot.
- — For virtual groups, ask them for their votes and make the appropriate marks using an “x” or some similar notation
- Tally up the votes.
- If you need to break a tie, you can do another round of dot voting, or use another technique.