In principle, the best group decisions are based on shared understanding of everyone’s perspective, and a good way to get a quick read of where everyone stands is to take a straw vote. A straw vote is not a real vote; it doesn’t count over the long run, like straw. Someone might say, “Let’s just see how people feel about the latest idea. All those who tend to like it, show a thumb up. If you tend not to like it, show a thumb down. If you are neutral or undecided, show a horizontal thumb.” Count the thumbs in the three categories. That’s a straw vote.
It lets everyone in the group see, in a quick and general way, if the latest idea is worth more group time and energy. It also shows where the concerns are (the down thumbs) so we know who to call on to hear concerns.
Some groups use color cards for straw votes. Some use high-tech remote keypads and the results are graphed instantly on a screen in front of the room. The most efficient groups use straw votes often and with ease.
Practical Tip: Don’t hesitate to call for, or participate in, a straw vote. Before calling for a straw vote, make sure the question is clear and simple; you don’t want to waste group time haggling about: “What are we voting on?”
When calling for a straw vote, remind everyone that it does not count over the long run; that everyone has the right to change their mind later; that it is simply a quick and blurry snapshot of how we feel at this moment. Still, even a snapshot can be worth a thousand words.