Team Decision Making: The Gradients of Agreement

Even when there is commitment to mission, shared values, and good intent, decision making is challenging. Working together and making collective decisions is important for commitment and success but it takes more time and effort. The Gradients of Agreement provide language to help with this collaborative decision-making process.

The Gradients of Agreement, adapted below from the work of Sam Kaner, Duane Berger and the staff of Community At Work, is not a voting process but instead a gauge of support. By using the language of the gradients combined with discussion, you will quickly see the level of support for a proposal. This allows everyone to express ideas and better understand what is important to others. Through this collaborative decision-making process, the team will build a solution that has a broad, enthusiastic level of support and will enhance the commitment and likely success of the resulting decision.

Consensus and Agreement

Consensus means that each team member agrees with and actively supports the decision and its implementation, even if they do not think it is the best decision.

Agreement on its own is more complicated. I agree might mean “I love this decision” or “I’ll support this decision even though I preferred a different proposal.” I don’t agree might mean “I’m not yet convinced but getting there” or“ I could never live with that decision.”

An expanded vocabulary to account for gradients of agreement help steam members to indicate their level of support for a proposal.

Gradients of Agreement

Sometimes team members are all over the scale. This ambiguous support can mean that the original problem or solution was poorly defined. The team can’t agree on a decision because they don’t agree on the proposal. It is crucial to clearly state the topic or proposal.  

Applying the Gradients of Agreement

The Gradients of Agreement provide language to help with team decision making. Follow the steps below to facilitate a collaborative decision-making process, using the Gradients of Agreement, that allows everyone to express ideas and create better understanding of what is important to others. 

1. Clearly state your topic or proposal being discussed. A team may have very scattered results if the topic and focus of the discussion is vague or poorly understood.

2. Ask team members to express their level of support. Let people know that the first poll is a preliminary round and will be followed by discussion and a final poll.  This method lets a person see where others stand before registering a final preference.

There are a variety of ways to capture level of support:

  • Ask for a show of hands – “Please raise your hand if you are at #1, fully support.” Then repeat for #2, etc.
  • Individual statements – Go around the room and ask each person to state which gradient they prefer, and why. At this point you don’t want group discussion; only listening for understanding.
  • Flip chart – Ask all team members to mark the gradients of agreement.
  • Simultaneous declaration – Have each person write the gradient (word or number) on a piece of paper. On cue, have everyone hold up their card.
  • Secret ballot – Have each person write their preference on a slip of paper.

3. Facilitate a discussion and give all members adequate time to express their ideas, excitement, or concerns. After you’ve had this time of exchange, re-poll and see where the team is leaning. 

4. Repoll. If there has been significant movement or coalescing of support, then you may be ready for a final decision. If not, you need more time and work to address the concerns that have been raised.