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What is Fist of Five?

Fist of Five


It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching a class or coaching a team.  When the moment comes, I need a quick way for a team to come to a decision.  Why should the team decide and not me?  From the seven standard leadership styles, I see consensus as the most appropriate for an empowered team.  If the team is not empowered, they are not an Agile team.


When a decision has to be made, ask the team to do a fist of five. All the team members raise one hand to vote with their five fingers (unless they’ve suffered an accident in shop class).  I depicted in the Fist of Five Pictofigo drawing, member votes range from a fist to five fingers.  The term fist to five and fist of five are interchangeable.

Explaining the Details

  • I see a fist as a blocker.  This individual is in complete disagreement and further discussion is required.
  • One finger (preferably not the middle one) has minimal support to the request at hand. Again, discussion is required.
  • Two fingers. Not happy with the current proposal.  Should discuss as a group to try and resolve disagreements.
  • Three fingers.  Luke warm response.  May go along if the rest of the group is voting three, four, or five.
  • Four fingers. Pretty much agree with the request. There is some apprehension but you can’t expect everyone to be all in all the time.
  • Five fingers. Full support.  They drank the Kool-Aid

Certainly, the success of this strategy is going to depend on the team employing it.  There will be some who just like to hear themselves talk and will throw up a fist, one, or two every time.  Hear them out!  You’ll also have those who don’t like to commit to anything.  They will generally put up three fingers.  Whatever the outcomes, try to keep a strict timebox for discussions.  Remember, this was to be a quick way for a team to come to a decision.

I would be curious to hear when you use fist of five, your successes, and your failures.

Image Source: Pictofigo

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of ALM Platforms at LeadingAgile. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon). Novice angel investor.

6 Responses to “What is Fist of Five?”

  1. June 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    I presented the Fist of Five concept during an agile training session a few weeks ago and the team really got on board with using it for building consensus. The team even went as far as using fist of five to decide if they were done with training for the day (lol) There was about 30 minutes left of scheduled training, and the team was at a good point where they could pick up the next day. It was nice to see them choose to use it since they had just learned it a few hours before! 

    • derekhuether
      June 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      Jenna, that’s a great example. I use the same strategy in class.  I introduce it at the beginning of the first day and use it for calling for breaks or lunch. The best use was when I had a learner ask for a fist of five without me asking.  THAT was an empowered class. 

  2. June 6, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Derek would you mind explain why it works?

    • derekhuether
      June 6, 2012 at 10:06 pm

      I want to clarify that if the situation isn’t right, the outcome won’t be as clear and the strategy isn’t as successful.  It works because the team is making the decision, not an individual with the perceived power.  It gives the team a sense of autonomy. 
      Craig, was that what you were looking for? 

      • Craig Brown
        June 6, 2012 at 11:32 pm

        Maybe still a bit vague. What is it that disables a person with perceived power from dominating the conversation?

        • derekhuether
          June 7, 2012 at 9:07 am

          There are always chances the person or people with the strongest personalities will dominate the conversation. Just like Planning Poker, you could employ a rule within Fist of Five to “throw out” the outlier votes (after brief discussion) to keep things moving forward.  You can’t always have total agreement.  To minimize the strong personalities from dominating, the team should have some rules.  Perhaps a 30 second or one minute limit per individual per vote, if discussion is warranted .

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