Every task requires the right tools.

Every task requires the right tools.

Team-based decision-making requires mechanisms for creating consensus among team members. There are certain prerequisites teams must satisfy in order to make a decision. The prerequisites are a decision to be made, trust, knowledge and the tools to make a decisions. In many instances, we assume that team members have the required tools and techniques in their arsenal. Unless team members have been trained in tools to generate consensus, this is rarely the case. Here are three decision-making techniques that each team should have: voting, Fist to Five and the nominal group technique. Each technique is more complex than the next and is representative of many other similar techniques.

Voting is a decision-making technique that almost everyone understands. The simplicity of the process is a major positive of this technique. The downside to voting is that someone (or some group of someones) will lose. The win/lose dynamic can create a divide within the team which can pull it apart over time or generate passive aggressive behavior.

Fist to Five is a tool that combines consensus building and voting. The technique has been attributed to numerous people or organizations ranging from Jim Highsmith to the American Youth Foundation. Fist to Five introduces an element of the common “yes”/”no” vote. Each participant responds to a proposed solutions with a fist or up to five fingers. A fist is designated as a “no” (and I will try to block the decision). The number of fingers is a “yes,” with an indication of how good a “yes” is, it usually ranging from one meaning the voters still has some issues to five meaning the voter will man the barricades to fight for the decision. Fist to Five provides a way to check the “sense of the group,” and the quality of the consensus on a scale.

Consensus decision-making requires involvement and commitment. Many group-oriented techniques have been developed to generate involvement, such as brainstorming. The goal of brainstorming is to give team members an opportunity to engage. The nominal group technique (NGT), uses a more structured format to obtain multiple inputs from a team on a particular problem or issue. This mechanism is often useful to help new teams as they build relationships and for distributed teams where formality can be used to combat distance.

NGT is a structured group discussion/voting method. The format prevents the domination by a single person or subject matter expert. The output of the process is a set of prioritized ideas, solutions or recommendations. The steps for a sprint team are:

  1. State an open-ended question (“How are we going to solve a business problem?”).
  2. Each team member will spend 5 – 10 minutes in silence individually brainstorming all the possible ideas. Write each idea on sticky note (if in person) or write the ideas in an electronic note (if the team is distributed).
  3. Share the ideas in a round robin manner with someone acting as a recorder adding each idea to a flip chart or shareable mind map. (Round robin is one response per person rotating until all ideas are recorded.). Use the classic brainstorming rules of allowing no criticism and allowing requests for clarification.
  4. Have each person evaluate the ideas and then anonymously vote for the best ones (I typically suggest voting for the top five, five being best and one being the lowest). The idea with the most votes wins.

Variant: discuss the top vote getters and then revote.

There are a myriad of group decision-making techniques. They vary in complexity and each try to address issues that a team might have when creating a decision. However, none of these techniques have ANY value if the team is not aware of the technique or cannot execute the technique. Teams can struggle creating a consensus, become passionately split on an idea or simply struggle to understand the options that are appropriate. Each team needs a pallet of decision making tools available (or a coach with those techniques), or they risk failing to make good decisions or to make decisions in a timely manner.