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Ways for a group to reach a decision

There are always moments in a project when decisions must be made. How those decisions are reached will vary according to circumstance. What is ultimately important, however, is to have the support of the entire team, and an understanding of what was decided, and how.

Fist of Five voting has the advantage of gauging the level of buy-in at various stages of the work. In response to a question, team members show their relative support by holding aloft one of the following: a fist, signifying no support; one finger, revealing serious concerns to be addressed before moving on; two, showing support, but with some reservations; three, indicating support; four, revealing solid support; and five fingers, showing unreserved enthusiasm. Not all Fist of Five voting procedures include the fist, but this can be a useful measure; it can also block consensus (if that is the goal). Even if the assessment reveals a lack of support, it provides the needed impetus for making the changes required to build toward a fruitful conclusion

The Fist of Five method can be used even when a consensus is not required. What is important, Jack Calabrese emphasizes, is that everyone involved must know what the goal is at the outset. They must also understand the ground rules, otherwise, confusion will arise, and participants might assume, for example, that a consensus is the goal when the aim may be for Deep Democracy. Jack Calabrese describes Deep Democracy as a process in which the entire team is heard, and their views valued even if the final decision goes against them.

The term “majority rule” is self-explanatory: each member of the group is given a single vote and the majority carries. While majority rule is reasonably easy to manage and benefits from its innate fairness, decisions made as a group take longer than individual decisions. Its greatest benefit is the diversity of ideas that it brings to the table, although it is rare that a group’s performance will rise above those of its best members.

The majority rule method, to be successful, relies on the finely-honed skills of a facilitator who encourages critical thinking and can remain impartial, while tactfully teasing out diverse ideas. Patience is required to allow the exchange of ideas to play out. Effective strategies to speed up the process may include splitting the team into two groups to tackle the same problem or setting up a back channel to permit anonymous contributions.

The majority rule method can be difficult to coordinate, and some members may not pull their weight.  Another disadvantage of this method is that group-think can occur, suppressing critical analysis and creative ideas, which can send the team down the wrong path. Ways of countering this phenomenon include designating one member as devil’s advocate during discussions, inviting qualified outsiders into meetings, and ensuring a healthy culture of respectful debate, which takes us back to the importance of a skilled facilitator.

Decider protocol is one of the steps in a strict set of protocols that govern participation in the decision-making process. These protocols are: the Rules of Engagement; Pass (how to decline participation); Check-in and Check-out (respectively, how to join in or withdraw from a discussion); Ask for Help; Protocol Check (how to question the process); Intention Check (to clarify one’s own behaviour for the group); Perfection Game (enabling the facilitator to aggregate the best ideas); Personal Alignment (how to understand and remove impediments); and Investigate (how to resolve perceived difficulties in a detached manner).

The Decider protocol determines as Jim and Michele McCarthy put it, how “to move a group immediately and unanimously towards results” by laying out detailed steps for the proposer and voters. The steps specify how voters should respond to a proposal by indicating yes (thumbs up), that they are not supportive (thumbs down), or that they support the proposal (showing a flat hand, while simultaneously voting with other voters). Voters totally opposed to the proposal must say so explicitly and may cause the proposal to be withdrawn. The proposer, after counting the vote, can proceed to the Resolution protocol to bring in outliers. Once the proposer deems that the proposal has been accepted, the team is now committed to the result.

This is one in a series of articles exploring the Advanced Certified ScrumMaster learning objectives. If you would like to learn more about how Agile Centre can help you deepen your knowledge of Scrum Mastery then join us for one of our Advanced Certified ScrumMaster courses. For in-house classes or coaching please contact us for details. 

Advanced Certified ScrumMaster Learning Objective 2.3: Describe at least three ways a group could reach their final decision (e.g., fist of five, decider protocol, majority vote, etc.)