Groups grappling with important issues often have the “sensing” challenge of taking their own pulse. More often than not, the issue is thrashed out through discussion, followed by someone “calling the question” and putting the matter to a vote.
Some very common scenarios:
- A working group convened by a government agency is reviewing potential future improvements to a highly used local park. Opinions on a few key park features diverge and are the subject of fierce controversy.
- A university college is debating which of three candidates should be their next dean. One is a respected older faculty member nearing retirement. A second is a bright, young faculty member who has just achieved tenure and has radical ideas. The third is an out-of-state candidate with good credentials.
- An engineering firm is trying to decide between different budget cutbacks. Each department is hoping to avoid personnel and resources losses.
A potential intermediate step that can sharpen discussion is a straw poll designed to calibrate and aggregate a group’s opinion. In some settings it is called the “Fist-to-Five” method, though at GUILD Consulting we call it, “The Heartthrob to Heart Attack Scale.”
It’s a five-to-one straw vote that locates and sums up how a collective body feels about the issue or idea at hand.
|5||Love the idea.|
|4||Like the idea.|
|3||The idea is OK.|
|2||Yes…I have objections but won’t stand in the way.|
|1||I firmly oppose.|
We introduce this tool at the start of trainings and use it judiciously. When the time is right, people are reminded it’s not a final vote and asked to put a number on how they feel. Sometimes the results are obvious, if everyone clusters between 4s and 5s or at the bottom between 1s and 2s.
When results diverge more dramatically, we might ask each person to explain why they straw polled the way they did. For example, “Sam, you voted this a 4. Tell us what it would take to change your polling number from a 4 to a 3, or even to a 2.”
The polling tool tends to have two constructive effects:
- it sharpens the issues, and
- it promotes a more meaningful discussion
There are many other uses and modifications for this, too. In one particular scenario, we worked with a group who felt especially bad about some actions they had taken that hadn’t worked out. When asked to calibrate the “burden” they felt in numbers, where 5 equaled 500-lbs, 1 equaled 100 lbs., their own results surprised them. Most felt only modestly bad while a few answered with 0. In addition, only a few felt deeply troubled, and the meeting quickly moved on to other more important matters.
Our Partners at GUILD Consulting will be happy to talk to you about approaches to better team alignment. Email us at [email protected] or call (808) 729-5850.