Fist to five is a simple and effective technique for improving team dynamics and gauging consensus. In this simple method, participants are asked to rate their level of support for an idea or proposal on a scale of 0 to 5 using their fingers. However, two simple modifications – scoring on paper rather than fingers and defining the approach in the project chapter – are important for exceptional results. Fist to five is a decision-making technique that should be described in the project charter and agreed upon by all participants. Ample time should be allowed between the initial poll and the final vote for negotiation and agreement to occur.
How It Works
Fist to five voting is a quick and easy way to gather feedback and build consensus in a group. It can be used in various settings, from team meetings to community groups, and can help ensure that everyone can be heard and that decisions are made with the group's best interests in mind.
The facilitator or group leader presents an idea, proposal, or question to the group.
A fist represents zero support or strong opposition to the idea while raising all five fingers represents full support or strong agreement.
Participants can show any number of fingers between 1 and 4 to indicate varying levels of support or agreement.
The facilitator then tallies the votes and uses the results to guide further discussion or decision-making.
Not a First and Second Reading
A first and second reading before a final vote is a common parliamentary procedure in many legislative bodies, such as the United States Congress and the European Parliament. These readings allow legislative body members to fully consider and debate the proposed legislation before voting on it.
Not Likert Scales
Providing answers on a 1 to 5 scale, also known as Likert scales, can be an effective tool for gathering feedback or opinions, depending on the context and purpose of the poll. Likert scales measure strong agreement with a statement on one end of the range and strong disagreement on the other end.
One advantage of using a 1 to 5 scale is that it allows for a range of responses, rather than just a binary yes or no answer. This can provide more nuanced feedback and help to identify areas of consensus or disagreement among participants. While similar to the fist to five technique, responses with Likert scales are usually for a series of statements and fist to five in normally a single, called question on group agreement.
Modified Fist to Five Example – Regional Planning
South Carolina’s State Water Planning Process Advisory Committee (PPAC) is a good example of using the fist to five technique effectively. The PPAC is comprised of stakeholders with diverse interests in South Carolina's water resources, including agriculture, developers, water utilities, power utilities, recreation groups, and environmental organizations. The task over ten months was to develop and approve a framework that would be used in all of the state’s river basins.
A Two-Step Process
Approval of the Final River Basin Plan was reached in two steps. Step One involved the Members indicating their level of consensus with a copy of the Draft River Basin Plan. Components (chapters) were approved in final draft format as they were developed. Discussions and negotiations were also documented.
Step Two involves approving the combined components in a draft framework. This included a first vote (fist-to-five) and a final vote several sessions later.
Each member indicates their concurrence using a five-point scale.
1. Full Endorsement (i.e., member likes it).
2. Endorsement but with Minor Points of Contention (i.e., member likes it).
3. Endorsement but with Major Points of Contention (i.e., member can live with it).
4. Stand aside with Major Reservations (i.e., member cannot live with it in its current state and can only support it if changes are made).
5. Withdraw - Member will not support the Draft River Basin Plan and will not continue working within the RBC's process. Member has decided to leave the RBC.
Ratings were only considered from appointed members. Alternates were not allowed to vote. The facilitator used written ballots for the first vote but had the option to do a verbal roll call.
Members who rated the draft plan as a 4 or 5 on the first vote were required to state their Major Reservations or Dissension so that the concerns might be resolved. A vote of 4 or 5 on the final vote required a written statement of 500 words or fewer for the final approved document.
The process worked well, with no votes of 4 or 5 for the PPAC Planning Framework. The PPAC developed and relied upon a project charter that explained the decision-making techniques, we had ample meetings to allow for time if the initial poll yielded undesirable results, and we did a decent job communicating throughout the process.
Modified Fist to Five Example – Capital Program Prioritization
A water and sewer utility had an unusually large list of capital improvement projects due to falling behind on renewal and rebuilds for nearly a decade. The utility used a traditional multi-criteria prioritization process, which seeks to build group consensus by a cross-functional team scoring and weighting every project. Nevertheless, the utility leadership saw the effort as highly controversial and wanted another layer of protection that everyone agreed to.
A Two-Step Process
A two-step process similar to the one previously described for regional planning was used. The process was also outlined in writing at the beginning of the effort and each team member signed the agreement. One month was allocated in the project schedule between the fist to five vote and finalizing the prioritized list.
The modified fist to five technique worked well. As with many muti-criteria ranking efforts, most participants have reservations about the final list but not until late in the process. The modified fist to five approach provided some time for member concerns to be worked out before issuing the final plan. Team dynamics were also much improved during the facilitating process because most members realized they would have another bite at the apple at the end of the group effort.
Modified Fist to Five Example – Board of Directors Initiative
A public corporation was considering an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiative that leaders knew would be controversial among the board of directors. Unfortunately, team dynamics were strained before a second supplemental facilitator was asked to intervene. The supplemental facilitator’s approach included re-chartering the board on this initiative and using a modified fist to five technique as part of the process.
A Single-Step Event
In this case, the modified fist to five was performed in a single session as part of the one-day supplemental facilitator contract. In reality, the primary facilitator continued to use the result of the fist to five exercise for several more sessions to bring the group to a consensus.
Consensus is usually defined as “can live with it.” However, in this case, the chairman decided that the group needed full endorsement or endorsement with only minor points of contention. Only twenty percent of the board members expressed this level of support at the re-chartering session.
The ESG initiative failed to get the required levels of endorsement in the months following the re-chartering. The board chair expressed great appreciation for the supplemental facilitation efforts because it “pulled the board out of the ditch” and made it easier to maintain positive synergy after the initiative failed. Several members expressed their belief that this one issue would have divided the board apart had it not been for the intervention.
Facilitating with FINESSE
Fist to five is a simple technique that can be easily modified to produce excellent team results. When executed properly, the modified technique builds and maintains team dynamics while bringing the group to a consensus. The modified fist to five technique should be a tool in every facilitator’s facilitation bag.
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