Decision group making: the power of consensus cards

par Nicolas Hefti, Senior Software Engineer

Decision group making can be challenging. It is even more true in a virtual meeting. Starting from 6 people it is hard to collect the opinion of each participant to get the overall group mind without losing time and momentum. Plus, not everyone is able or willing to express her or his opinion. Color cards or consensus cards can solve most of these issues, giving your decision process the flow that you expect. Let’s dive into the shades of minds…

Bonus: while not being designed initially for the remote group work, this can help you during this COVID time where home office is becoming more frequent and you have to keep on making decision within your projects and teams.

Concept of a decision group making

Give every member of the group the same deck of cards with different colours and/or symbols. Each cards represents an opinion. Here is an example scale:

  • Green: « I fully agree »
  • Blue: « I mostly agree but I have some reservation »
  • Orange: “I’m slightly against the proposition”
  • Red: “I disagree”

 

During the workshop when a proposition is exposed, the speaker or facilitator ask the group to choose and raise a card depending on their opinion on this decision. Based on the cards, you quickly see if there is a consensus among group members. It is also easy to spot the people having some questions or strong disagreement on the proposal.

What to expect?

Consensus over unanimity

When people seek for unanimity, decision making can be simplified with a Yes or No most of the time. But the human mind is more diverse and is thus restrained by this binary approach.

The planning poker in Scrum team is a good example. The objective is to get an idea on how difficult a given task is. The team member will draw a card depending on their opinion on a defined feature. The overview or shades of numbers gives an estimation: is it difficult or not compared to the rest of our tasks.

As in the planning poker, the consensus card will give you a direction: is the team agreeing or disagreeing on a certain proposition. The consensus becomes the decision of the group.

Express yourself without talking

In a group discussion a few people can have the monopole of conversation. We all know this guy who likes to hear himself talking. But what about the others? Is silent an agreement or rather an opposition. Asking each participant every time can be time consuming for the facilitator. This becomes even more challenging in virtual meetings where only one person can be heard at the time.

With consensus cards, whether you are in a physical or virtual meeting room does not matter. Ask a question, give 5 seconds to the participant and you have everyone able to express his/her opinion and being heard.

Decision flow

The major impact of this tool is on the decision flow. As it is easier to collect each participant opinion, the facilitator can easily assess the opinion of the group and shape the proposition in real time.

Additionally, the participant are much more involved in the meeting. First, they need to do something on a regular basis, and not just check Twitter feeds. Second, they feel much more valued as the others will need to take her or his opinion into consideration. They can easily express their disagreement and be requested by the animator to give more details about what bothers them.

Some tips for your implementation

You want to give it a try? Here are some tips based on our experience.

Wise decision scale

There is no strict number of cards the color scale should have. But too few may lead to the good old binary choice and too many can make things complicated for the team member to choose.

The 4 cards variant presented at the beginning of this article is interesting because it does not allow a neutral position. Either you are against, either you for the proposition. But you can not rest comfortably in the middle. Plus it is small enough to be rapidly grasped by anyone.

Going further with meeting animation

The color cards can also be used to animate the discussion. In this case the meaning of the color changes. For example:

  • Green: “I can bring an answer or details on the subject”
  • Blue: “I have a question”
  • Orange: “This point is clear. We can move on.”
  • Red: “Problem: subject is off topic, time limit, tone, …”

 

The tool is here to help the facilitation of the meeting and get the best out the time frame allocated. Be sure to display or communicate the meaning of the cards and also make it clear if you are in a discussion mode or decision mode.

Going further about decision group making

You can find another template of a 4-scale decision cards on Wikipedia about Consensus decision-making.

If you like to talk with your hands rather than cards you should definitely have look and the occupy movement hand signals.

Finally, for an in depth approach of decision making (not only decision cards), we recommend Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, from Sam Kaner – 3rd Edition – 2014.

 

Happy meeting facilitation. Let us know if you have any feedback on this technic. We would love to hear from you.

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