The Fist of Five approach combines the speed of thumbs up/ down and displays the degrees of agreement that can support more complicated decision spectrums. Using this tool, people vote using their hands and display fingers to represent their degree of support.

Fist of Five Method

Fist of Five for Contextual Questions

Use Fist of Five for Contextual Questions

When a group comes to consensus on an issue, it means that everyone in the group can support the decision. They don’t all have to think it’s the best decision, but they all agree they can live with it. The Fist of Five tool provides an easy-to-use way to test for consensus quickly.

Most of you understand that we despise voting as a decision-making method, as the losing vote(s) could actually represent the highest quality decision.  Therefore, we recommend using the Fist of Five, promoted in the Agile life-cycle, for contextual issues and NOT issues about content.  For example, “Should we take a full 60 minute lunch break today?”.

To use the Fist of Five tool, the facilitator makes a question clear and asks everyone to show their level of support.  Each person responds by showing a fist or a number of fingers that corresponds to their opinion.

Fist—a clear no vote, a way to block consensus.  “I need more information about the issues and require changes for this proposal to pass.”

1 Finger—“I need to discuss certain issues and can suggest changes that should be made.”

2 Fingers—“I am comfortable with the proposal but want to discuss it further.”

3 Fingers—“I’m not in total agreement but feel comfortable enough to let this decision or proposal pass without further discussion.”

4 Fingers—“I think this is a reasonable idea and am not opposed.”

5 Fingers (such as the waving hand)—“It’s a great idea and I am a major supporter.”

Anyone who holds up fewer than three fingers should be given the opportunity to explain their objections and the team should respond to their concerns.  Teams continue using the Fist of Five tool until they achieve consensus (a minimum of three fingers or higher) or determine they must move on without consensus.

Fist of Five Notes

A small problem with this approach is that two standards have emerged and you really need to be clear if five fingers mean “full agreement” or “no, stop”. With the method discussed above, a fist (no fingers) implies no support while five fingers means total support and a desire to lead the charge.  Typically, more is better.

Another model registers resistance to the proposal so that one finger means total support, two fingers means support with some minor reservations, three fingers means concerns that need discussing, four fingers means “I object and want to discuss”, and five fingers (an extended palm like a stop sign) means “Stop, I am opposed.”  Whichever method you embrace, please do NOT use the Fist of Five for making decisions about content, especially important content or client issues.  You may however use the Fist of Five for making very minor content decisions such as the substitution of one word for another (wordsmithing–albeit, a lousy group activity).

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

To help you access our in-house resources, (e.g., annotated agendas, break timers and templates used in our FAST Professional Facilitation Training) go to the Facilitation Training Store

Furthermore, the FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual. Attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world. See MG Rush for a current schedule. FAST provides 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, 40 CDUs from IIBA, or 3.2 CEUs).

Finally, don’t forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. Change or Die provides detailed workshop agendas.  It also includes numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective.

We are daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.



Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Monthly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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