Confidence Voting

Gains consensus around a team's agreement or disagreement on the current activity, event or questions
Contributed by

Tim Beattie

Matt Takane

Edited by
Published August 10, 2018

What Is Confidence Voting?

  • A practice that gains consensus around a team's agreement or disagreement on the current activity, event or questions

  • A group voting on how confident they are in doing something or learning something

  • A safety check

Why Do Confidence Voting?

  • Builds a consensus for team agreement to progress or not progress

  • A facilitator will conduct the vote. As a topic discussion concludes, the facilitator will ask the participants to vote how confident they are on understanding the topic, the ability to execute, and sufficent resources and time.

  • At the count of 3, all participants will raise their hand and raise fingers indicating their confidence: 1 for low, 5 for high and 2, 3 or 4 for anything in between.

  • In the end the facilitator will count the votes and open a discussion on what is yet to be cleared or addressed before moving on to the next topic.

How to do Confidence Voting?

Determine the goal: You can use confidence voting to check in on a topic with the group, to build consensus on a topic, or to move forward on a topic on which you're stuck. Choose one goal.

Suggest the practice: "I've got a suggestion: let's try using confidence voting for this scenario. We can use it to (pick one: check-in || gain consensus || move forward). It only takes a couple minutes. We'll be able to quickly hear from everyone in the room in a democratic way, and take a quantitative measurement of where we collectively stand. I can facilitate. Any objections to us doing it -- right now?"

Explain the practice: "It's pretty simple: I want you to think of a score from zero to five, which represents your point of view on the current topic at hand. A vote of zero (facilitator shows a closed fist, held above their head) is a vote of no confidence; a five (facilitator shows open hand) represents full confidence. We'll count to three, and then everyone will show their vote at the same time, raising their hands above their head. I'll then tally up the average, and then I'll guide the discussion on how we arrived at our votes. Any questions before we begin?"

It's vital that you capture the vote first, before allowing any discussion on the topic itself. Capturing the vote first ensures that you actually get around to capturing it, and ensures that you prioritize hearing from everyone in a democratic fashion. And, capturing the vote first will then provide a framework for facilitating the subsequent conversation in a way that can reduce the tendency for the 'loudest voice in the room' to dominate.

State the question: "So, the question at hand is: should we do Indian food for dinner tonight? Get your vote in your head and get ready to show your score on the count of three, ready?"

Count: 1, 2, 3, vote!

Everyone votes at the same time and hands must be held high. This may seem trivial but, for more contentious topics (although this could be one), it is important that people do not look to others in the room to see how to vote.

Each person votes by holding up 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 fingers.

The facilitator (or vote caller) looks around the room and quickly tallies the votes. The votes breakdown like this:

0 fingers (a fist): No way, terrible choice, I will not go along with it. A way to block consensus. If you are running a vote to decide and move forward, it is vital that you explain that fists are the way to block consensus.

1 finger: I have serious reservations with this idea, but I vote to move forward, but I’d prefer to resolve the concerns before supporting it.

2 fingers: I have some concerns, but I’ll go along and try it.

3 fingers: I will support the idea.

4 fingers: I like this idea, sounds good.

5 fingers: Absolutely, best idea ever! I’ll champion it.

Based on the goal of the vote (as noted above), the facilitator takes the next step:

Goal: Check-in — The facilitator announces the results, uses the results to adjust the session, make changes, start a discussion, or other actions based on how the vote went and how he/she sees the process progressing. Was the vote what you expected? Different? Do you believe changes are required?

For example:

"We're doing this vote to check-in on things. Our average was 3.2, which means, on average, the team is feeling good about things. Was this result what you had expected? Different? Do you believe changes are required?"

Goal: Learn and gain consensus — If you have some 0s, 1s, or 2s, ask for reasons. What reservations do they have? You ask for a brief summary or a bottom-line of the reasons. Ask for other bottom-line comment from others. Then call another vote. You may learn new information to restate the question and vote again.

For example:

"Our average was 4.2, which means, on average, the team likes this idea. And I saw a few outliers -- a couple of you scored it as zero. Let's hear from one of the outliers -- can you briefly share the summary reason behind your vote?"

Goal: Vote and move forward — If everyone has fingers up, that is a yes. If everyone has a fist up, that is a clear no. If there is a mix, it is a winner take all, number of hands with fists, vs. number of hands with fingers up (1 thru 5).

For example:

"We're doing this to vote and move forward. Our team had a mixture of fists and fingers, but there were more fists (no confidence) than fingers. In this situation, winner takes all, and fists are the winners, so we've decided against the proposal. I'll record the results of the vote as our decision. If we ever need to revisit this decision because our situation has changed, we can quickly run it again. For now, we need to recognize that we've reached our decision with some disagreement, and it's important that we commit to it and move forward."

A variation on the vote and move forward approach is to pre-announce a cutoff score that would automatically advance or defeat the agenda topic (i.e. "2 or below means we don't move forward; anything above 2 is a go"), calculate the average score, and use the result to quickly move forward.

This technique was popularized by Jean Tabaka in her book Collaboration Explained

Look at Confidence Voting

Links we love

Check out these great links which can help you dive a little deeper into running the Confidence Voting practice with your team, customers or stakeholders.

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