This past weekend I used a tool I call “visual voting” and it proved surprisingly effective in moving us forward. For visual voting, options being discussed are written on flip charts and participants walk up to the flip chart and place colored dot stickers next to their preferred options. In this way, there is a quick gauge on where the group stands.
Visual voting is different than a show of hands in two regards – the votes are anonymous and they stay up in front of everyone as a visual representation of which options have more support. It’s also important to note that the team is then looking at flip charts, which is neutral territory, and not at each other. And voting this way is physical – it gets folks up and moving.
The team I was with last weekend was a board that had spent a year examining alternate business models to address the fact that participation in their programs had decreased by 75%. Based on this work, the board met to come to agreement on which direction to move forward with.
Each team presented a business plan; there were seven options under consideration. Following each presentation we entertained clarifying questions but not comments that were judgmental or evaluative. Then everyone was asked to go to two flip charts listing the seven options and “vote.” Each person was allotted three green dots for the options they liked and up to three red dots for options they did not like or had a strong concern about. Everyone had to vote for their top three options (green) but didn’t have to rule any option out (red).
Once everyone voted, the colored dots made it easy to see where there was consensus. We started with discussing options that the group wanted to rule out and in fact, there was one option that got a lot of red dots. There was quick agreement that this model didn’t fit the values or the brand of the nonprofit.
We then looked at which options received the most dots; two options stood out. The group discussed strengths, weaknesses, variations, and overlaps of the remaining options. Seeing the dots arrayed over seven options was a quick and clear gauge on where the group stood and helped structure the discussion.
What would have happened if the dots were evenly distributed? While I’ve never seen this, it would in fact, be useful data. It would let us know that we didn’t have sufficient consensus on key attributes, values, or decision parameters, and would have to back up.
Importantly, visual voting is efficient, anonymous, and can even be fun.