Fist to five is a technique for gauging consensus on a prompt, but it can also be used to build connections within teams.
Traditional fist to five
Typically fist to five is used to gauge consensus, support, or excitement on a prompt. A facilitator will give a prompt such as:
Out of the three architectural approaches presented, I plan on implementing #2.
And then at the same time all team members give their opinion by holding up a number of fingers:
- Zero (closed fist): absolutely not, I will veto/block this
- One: I have major concerns or issues
- Two: I have some minor, immediate issues to discuss
- Three: I have some minor issues to discuss later and/or I don't feel strongly enough to hold up a vote
- Four: one thumb up, I'm on board
- Five: two thumbs up, I'm fully committed
The goal is to reach decisions faster by forcing discussion of team member's reservations or blockers.
Social fist to five
A senior engineering leader at a previous company of mine introduced a ceremony to my team that I've carried to every team since:
Every Friday during our normal standup, we take a small amount of extra time to describe how we're ending that week, one (low) to five (high), on an emotional level.
Each team member can choose how personal or detailed they want to get with their answer, the goal isn't to challenge a person's comfort level.
Answers can range from:
I uncovered a lot of additional work on my primary project that is likely to impact the deadline, and I'm feeling a lot of external pressure.
I had to cancel personal plans this weekend because of an unexpected family emergency.
This week was one work emergency after another. I turned the learnings into meaningful documentation, but I'm glad this week is over.
I can tell that I'm coming down with a cold, and it's really taking the wind out of my sails.
I faced a lot of blockers getting my work done this week, and even though I'm happy the work is done, I felt like it took much longer than it needed to.
Work was fine this week, but I'm stressed out from hosting my family.
I had a productive week with minimal frustrations and I felt I produced quality work.
Work was fine this week, but I'm quite proud of the rock climbing route I solved that I've been working on.
I solved a long-standing issue this week, and I'm really proud of the debugging and problem-solving that it took.
Work was good this week, but I'm really excited to try a new restaurant I've been looking forward to this weekend.
There is no guidance on what a one means and what a five means. There isn't a standard that must be understood by everyone in order to reach a consensus. The goal is to share and hear wins from your colleagues, but also bring some compassion by sharing and hearing challenges people are facing.
Team member's updates can be exclusively about their job, but I've found that colleagues have enjoyed connecting with each other by sharing some about their personal life. I personally find greater job satisfaction when I have a personal connection with my colleagues.
Like a lot of people, I have been working remotely since March 2020. In late 2020 I changed jobs and still have never met some of my colleagues in person. Team processes that invite meaningful connection have made me feel less isolated.
If your team really latches onto this ceremony, you could also consider trying a more emotional retrospective technique such as "mad, sad, glad."
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Not for everyone
This ceremony is not right for every team, however. Some reasons could include:
- General lack of psychological safety
- Personality differences that make some team members uncomfortable discussing emotions
- Cultural differences
- Age differences leading to different life circumstances
Only you can know if your team would enjoy this ceremony, and it should only be held as long as everyone is still enjoying it.