Do you facilitate or chair any kind of meeting or gathering – planning sessions, board meetings, work groups, or committee meetings? If so, one of your jobs is to help the group make decisions…preferably thoughtful, transparent, commonly-agreed-upon decisions.
In our last post, we discussed the ways that Robert’s Rules of Order can make it more challenging to reach good decisions. A good alternative is the consensus process.
The best tool for the job
One of the best consensus tools for facilitators was developed by Sam Kaner of Community at Work, and is highlighted in their uber-useful book, the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making. The tool is called the Gradients of Agreement.
Rather than rely on a strict up or down vote, the gradients of agreement scale allows people to register a broad range of opinions. This leads to deeper conversations that engage everyone and (in many cases) pave the way for consensus.
Below is a simplified version of the gradients of agreement. A more complex version, which we are sharing with permission, can be downloaded here and used with your group.
What do you want on your pizza?
To teach groups how to use the gradients, I generally start with a hypothetical example – ordering pizza. Anchovies are a great place-holder, because opinions vary!
“I’m calling out for pizza,” I say, “and I’m considering anchovies. Who’s a number 1 and endorses anchovy pizza? Raise your hands. OK, who agrees with reservations, meaning you’ll eat anchovies on your pizza, but you don’t love them. You’re a 2 – raise your hands.” Etc. By the time you get to the “anchovy veto,” people will be laughing.
To build comfort with the gradients, you might try out the model a second time with a topic that’s relevant to the group, but not the subject at the heart of your discussion. Another example I use: How do people feel about creating term limits for board members?
Unanimity is not the goal
If you’re facilitating a board meeting, you may need to take a yes or no vote to conform to your bylaws and finalize a decision. Before then, the gradients tool allows you to test out proposals and use “straw votes” to see if you’re close to a consensus. It also allows those who are less than enthusiastic to express themselves.
It’s very rare for everyone to fully endorse a specific proposal. A mix of 1’s and 2’s, with perhaps a few 3’s, is a strong result and shows sufficient enthusiasm to move forward to a formal vote, if needed.
How to use the gradients of agreement
You can use this tool in several ways.
- Show of hands. “Who endorses? Please raise your hands. OK, who agrees with reservations? Raise your hands.” Etc.
- Pick one and say why. Each person names a number and explains why.
- Simultaneous declaration. Everyone writes a number on a piece of paper and holds up their papers at the same time. People can use fingers in the same way – 1, 2, 3 fingers, etc.
- Secret ballot. Collect, tally, and announce.
- Two rounds. After polling, encourage people to share their thoughts, then poll again. The conversation often shifts the results in the second round.
Because life is complicated
Yes or no votes rarely reflect the complexity of the options we face as individuals, organizations, and collaborative networks.
The gradients of agreement model honors that complexity, while also helping groups move closer to agreement.
Try it at your next meeting and see how it works for you.