One person asks a question, not even a rhetorical one, followed by an awkward silence. Did it ever happen to you? It happened to me a lot, especially now that my days are filled with online or virtual meetings.
Of course, the facilitator of the meeting, or the person who asks the question, could formally go around the table to ask each participant to express their opinions. It is time-consuming, does not really help with the dynamic of the conversation, and in most cases, does not really help surface the potential disagreements.
The simplest way is to assess the opinion of the room is to introduce hand signals. Here is how it works with the team I interact with. The approach is loosely inspired by the Decider (from The Core Protocols).
The proposer clearly states is one and only one proposal and asks the participants to show their hands. The best results are obtained when everybody votes at the same time that to avoid the temptation of following the crowd (and regretting it after 🙂 ).
Thumbs Up to show their approbation.
Thumbs Down to show their disagreement.
Flat Hand to show they are ready to support the decision of the team.
Let’s review what is coming next when all participants have expressed their opinion.
When everybody thumbs up, or you have a majority of thumbs up and some flat hands. Nothing to really worry about and you can move on.
When you have a thumb down, or you don’t have a majority of thumbs up, it signals the need for inquiring about the reasons of the participants. The way you formulate your question is important. “What will it take to get you to thumbs up?” is a better question than “What do you think?” as it focuses the person on finding a way to move forward, and not to express all the reasons to stop the progress.
You can adjust the proposal and get another vote.
The teams usually adjust very quickly to the approach and find improvements in their way of expressing their opinions. Progressively, team members will be more comfortable to express when they are “absolute NO” on a proposal, which will minimize the time spent attempting to resolve things that cannot be resolved.
The last signal we introduced in one team is: Arms Crossed to signify when is it time to move on to another topic. The equivalent of the ELMO facilitation technique. ELMO stands for Enough Let’s Move On. You can use the real Elmo or a picture of him, just a piece of paper, or Lisette Sutherland’s Collaboration Superpowers Cards.
I also worked with teams that introduced a variant of the flat hand signal. With the Palm up, it then means that the participant will follow the team but would prefer not to, but does not have strong objections.
A good addition to the classic: I want to speak!