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 Six Fingers Consensus

Each week, Instant Meeting presents an idea or activity that you might use to make staff meetings more interesting, teacher-centered, educational, or fun.

Brief Description/Purpose

This simple approach enables you to see how close your staff is to reaching consensus on an issue. This quick way of arriving at a decision can clarify where everyone in the group stands and prevent "talking an issue to death."

Materials Needed

  • a flip chart sheet with the levels of consensus (see below) written on it

Time Required

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10 to 30 minutes, depending on the complexity of the issue and the size of the group

"Instant Meeting" Idea

Consensus is a format that requires getting everyone on board with the agreement. It doesn't mean that everyone in the group loves the idea; it only means that everyone agrees to live with the decision and help implement it. Groups using consensus often talk an issue to death as they seek unity and it is hard to tell if everyone is really on board. "Levels of consensus" is an approach that provides a quick way to check consensus.

Imagine that the swim team's booster club is developing a mission statement. The group has spent two meetings discussing and drafting their statement. It is now time to make a decision. Before the meeting, prepare a chart that explains the consensus scale:


  • 1 finger -- "I can say an unqualified yes to the decision. I am satisfied that the decision is an expression of the wisdom of the group."
  • 2 fingers -- "I find the decision perfectly acceptable."
  • 3 fingers -- "I can live with the decision even though I'm not especially enthusiastic about it."
  • 4 fingers -- "I do not fully agree with the decision and need to register my view about why. However, I will not block the decision because I trust the wisdom of the group."
  • 5 fingers -- "I do not agree with the decision and feel the need to stand in the way of this decision being accepted."
  • 6 fingers -- "I feel that we have no clear sense of unity in the group. We need to do more work before consensus can be reached."

State the question to be decided and review the levels of consensus (above). Then ask all group members to hold up fingers indicating where they are on the consensus scale. If a quick scan of the room shows all ones and twos, the group can see that consensus has been reached. If there are several people indicating threes and fours -- or if there is even one five or six -- invite those with threes, fours, and fives to talk about why they chose that number. Listen carefully to their concerns and cautions. Even if there is only one person who is not in unity with the decision, the group needs to take time to hear and consider what that person has to say. You can ask what changes might make the agreement more acceptable to the fours and fives. Then check those suggested changes with the full group. Sometimes small or non-controversial changes are enough to bring dissenters into agreement.

Source: Making Decisions: Levels of Consensus