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Fist to Five: What it is and How to Apply it at Meetings

Fist to Five: What it is and How to Apply it at Meetings

Most people know the simplicity of the “no” and “yes” voting rather than the more community-oriented and complex consensus decision-making method of fist to five. First popularized by Jean Tabaka in her coaching and book called Collaboration Explained, this process is growing in leaps and bounds.

Have you ever had an awkward moment whereby you go for a high five, but the other party opts for a fist bump?

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Such moments are occurring increasingly in our society, especially with the populace grappling with the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic. Some people prefer the traditional way of acknowledgment, the high-five, but others like to stick to the fist bump as they view it as safer for health purposes. 

In this article, we are not going to dwell on these moments. Instead, we will see what it birthed: a fist to five decision-making method. This fist-to-five strategy proves to be quite helpful in virtual and in-person meetings. 

What is Fist to Five

As the name suggests, the fist to five is simply a transitioning between clenching fingers into a fist or opening it up to display either one to five fingers. In other words, fist to five is a feedback technique to get quality feedback quickly in a meeting or gauge consensus. 

The leader restates an action and then asks the others to indicate their level of support for it by holding up a number of fingers numbering 0-5: Five is for total agreement, and clenching of the fist is for vehement opposition. 

Below is an image illustrating this consensus process:

Unlike the typical yes and no consensus, fist-to-five voting is a better method to gauge the general level of agreement: it simply involves observing the number of fingers a person holds up. Therefore, this technique can effectively empower participants to be more active in giving their input, thus aiding them in reaching decisions faster.   

Fist to five is best for initial discussions rather than the final vote. Nonetheless, one might employ it in gauging how far or close everyone is from the consensus. When utilizing it, the leader must tell the group what zero to five clarifies on the agreement scale. 

Here is a list of what each gesture represents:

  • Closed fist: a firm no. Block consensus.
  • 1 finger: there are significant concerns regarding the proposal, and there should be a priority to address them immediately
  • 2 fingers: there are minor issues that need attention
  • 3 fingers: though the proposal doesn’t feel comfortable, I’m okay letting it pass and then resolving the problems later
  • 4 fingers: this proposal is workable; thus, one is in favor
  • 5 fingers: the proposal is excellent; thus, I’d be at the forefront in championing it.

Prerequisite to Using the Fist to Five Consensus

When utilizing this strategy, it is imperative to meet the following prerequisite beforehand:

  • Study and understand the organization’s culture to aid you in dealing with diverse opinions.
  • Explain the respective meanings of each hand gesture to the participants. Remember, people come from different cultures; hence, they interpret hand gestures differently.
  • Deliberate on how to move forward when using this voting process. For example, will a new query follow whenever there is an objection? What happens if the concerns of an individual aren’t met?

How does this method work at decision-making meetings

Consensus is a process by which individuals agree to a decision using various techniques. One of these techniques is the fist-to-five consensus. 

Unlike the others, fist to five is about trust and transparency. Here, everyone has their say; thus, they experience a feeling of contribution to the decision made in the meeting. 

If most of the participants are on the disagreement side-twos, ones, or fists-then is advisable not to move forward with the decision until settling their concerns. But, if the room is more into the threes, fours, and fives, they stand for consensus, and you can move forward with the matter.

However, if a few individuals have concerns regarding the statement, it can be easier to spot them and beckon them to raise their relations with the rest of the group. 

In summary, the fist-to-five consensus helps put out in the open whether or not there are objections that can be swiftly dwelt with by the group or management. 

The Fist to Five Process

After bringing a proposal before a group, deliberating on it as needed, then begin the voting process.

Participants will then raise their hands with the number of fingers indicating their agreement on the subject. People need to raise their hands high so the moderator can quickly scan the room to get a feel of the general sense of the space. 

The moderator might then ask participants on the disagreement scale (0-2 fingers) to air their concerns and offer possible solutions. Later, the moderator can take a second vote. 

  • If one gets a low-quality vote, meaning lots of 0s, 1s, 2s, and 3s, the moderator might stop with the proposal and analyze it more carefully. 
  • If the vote is wildly split, meaning there’s no absolute majority, it translates into the need for more work to be done. This work is regardless of a winning “yes.” It is, therefore, essential to have a plan for combating the polarized views or whenever controversy arises. 
  • The more you employ the fist-to-five strategy, the easier it will be to utilize it in physical and virtual meetings

Advantages and Disadvantages of Fist to Five 

The advantages include:

  • With enough practice, the technique is straightforward to use.
  • It is a two-way deal that helps request feedback while initiating an exchange of decision-making and options.
  • One can utilize it quickly, provided it is not “artificially complicated.
  • It comes in handy when comparing opinions regarding the same statement
  • Provides a visual way of obtaining feedback 

As for the reservations, they are:

  • Being a technique, it requires to have established clarification beforehand. Without this establishment, the method might cause the damage to be greater than the benefit. 
  • Asking publicly for opinion might create (perceived) pressure. In other words, participants might change their voting behaviors when facing such pressures. This change can be good or bad, depending on the status quo of an organization.


1. Which is correct between “Fist to Five” or “Fist of Five”?

Some people might substitute the term “fist to five” with “fist of five.” These two phrases are not the same. The decision-making method discussed above is FIST TO FIVE.

2. Must you have a 100% Consensus with the Fist to Five Votings?

Aiming for a complete consensus on every decision can be pretty satisfying to everyone. It can also produce an opposite, opposing effect. Nonetheless, how you implement the fist-to-five strategy in meetings is up to you. 

One method to work with divided opinions is to disagree and commit. In other words, it is a way of countering with the group while not blocking a decision that might come later on regarding the proposal. 

For example, participants raise their hands, displaying two fingers. This display can be indicative of them having reservations about the topic. In that context, you may feel comfortable moving ahead with the proposal and resolving any issues later. 

3. How is the Fist to Five Different from other Decision-Making Methods?

Though there are many different decision-making methods for deliberating on issues as they come, fist-to-five stands out. Why?

Other techniques feel limited due to the simplicity of the yes or no choice. But for, the fist-to-five method offers the opportunity to have a peek at the reasoning behind the dissenting vote. 

Utilize the fist-to-five voting when you require quality rather than quantity of the poll: it is considerably more informative.

4. How is the Fist to Five Feelings Different from the those Felt in Other Consensus?

Consensus can take many forms: informal or formal, public or private, while involving various techniques. 

Fist-of-five consensus is about ensuring that everyone has an equal say. Also, it invokes a sense that a participant’s contribution is not in vain. This feeling creates an atmosphere of trust and transparency. 

5. What is the Best Alternative to Alternative to Fist to Five Feelings?

There is another technique called the feedback hand method. This process involves the use of different individual fingers to communicate. Below is how the system works:

  • Thumbs up: I like that
  • Index finger: I would like to point something out
  • Middle finger: I am not for that proposal
  • Ring finger: I’ll take that statement with me

Little finger: the suggestion came up short

If you find that this method is still too cumbersome, you can try huddles‘ design-making tool. You can receive feedback and suggestions from the team immediately.

Final Words

The fist of five is an excellent way of allowing participants to vote on and gauge a given matter using a range. This range involves holding up a hand with 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 fingers. 

When using this technique, ensure to:

  • Check-in on the standing of people’s thinking
  • Learn while gaining consensus, be it positive or negative.
  • Clearly state how the process will work to avoid (future) confusion.

If this is the first time you’ve heard or read about this technique, it is advisable to do a test run with a few participants while introducing a few simple proposals. See how they respond and note any confusions that may arise.

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