Picture of a group in discussionDescription: Sometimes teams easily come up with potential solutions, but have difficulty choosing among them. (If your problem is coming up with solutions, see the “Solution Creativity” topic.) The following techniques can be used separately or in combination to achieve agreement. The techniques assume you have already developed a list of possible solutions.


Criteria Method


Criteria are the standards or rules for making a given decision. For example, say you need to buy a car. You might have some criteria like: four doors; power brakes; power steering, and priced under $25,000. You go to the car lots, look at a bunch of cars, and only find four fitting that description. This cuts down your options to an easier set to manage, perhaps by coming up with more criteria—items that are not as critical, but can serve as tie-breakers, such as “best gas mileage” and “most cup holders.”

The technique below leads the team to name the criteria important to it regarding a decision and uses those criteria to find the best solution.


  1. Create two lists of statements about this problem:
    • Must haves—Results the decision must accomplish.
    • Wants—Results you would like to see the decision accomplish, but do not require.
      Tip: If a conflict arises about the classification of any item, move it into the “Must” column for now.
  2. When done, list the proposed solutions down the board, and the “must have” criteria across the top of the board.
  3. As a team, check off which of the criteria are met by each solution.
  4. If:
    • One meets the highest number of “musts,” ask for consensus on that solution.
    • More than one meets the highest number of “musts,” or consensus could not be reached:
      1. Erase every solution except the top two.
      2. Replace the “musts” across the top of the board with the “wants” and repeat Step 3.
  5. If there is a tie at this point, have the team weight the “must” and “want” criteria (determine the most important criterion, second-most, etc.) using reverse numbering.
    Example: If you have four “musts” and six “wants,” the top “must” is worth 10 points, the second “must” worth 9, and so on down to the last “want,” which is worth 1 point.
  6. Add up the points for each solution.
  7. Ask for consensus on the highest-scoring solution.

If the tie remains, the solutions are equally good based on the information you have. Further debate would waste the team’s time. If you cannot defer the decision (perhaps using the “Options” technique below), suggest a coin toss or similar approach—really!

Priority Voting

  1. List the solutions on the board.
  2. Give everyone a moment to decide on their favorite solution, second favorite, and third favorite.
  3. Go around the room and record three votes for each person’s favorite, two for each second-favorite, and one vote for each third.
  4. Tally the votes and circle the top two vote-getters.
  5. Ask if elements of the remaining solutions should be included in either or both of the winners.
  6. If so, do that, and then erase the other solution(s).
  7. Repeat the process for the top two.
  8. Gain consensus on the top vote-getter.



Use this technique if the team is having a hard time finalizing a decision because it thinks it will meet significant resistance from stakeholders.


  1. Have the team list all the objections stakeholders might raise for each solution.
    Note: If possible, invite stakeholders to help.
  2. Develop counterarguments for each objection.
  3. If the team cannot come up with a strong counterargument for a particular objection, revise or eliminate the proposed solution.

Status Voting

  1. Write the bullets below on the board.
  2. Have members secretly mark on paper one of the following regarding each proposed solution:
    • “A” for “I agree.”
    • “S” for “I do not fully agree, but I can support this.”
    • “T” for “I disagree, but I’ll let the team try it.”
    • “D” for “I disagree, and I think this violates the law, ethics, customer requirements, or company policies.”
  3. Have the facilitator collect, tally, and report the votes.
  4. If:
    • There is one (and only one) solution for which there are no Ds, tell the team it has already reached consensus behind that solution.
    • More than one solution has no Ds, focus your continued consensus-building on the solution(s) with the highest levels of support (the most A’s and S’s).
    • All the solutions have Ds, the team does not have enough information to make a decision.
  5. In the last case, have a subteam—preferably headed by the D voter(s), if they want to volunteer their identities—research the laws, customer requirements, etc., that appear to conflict with each solution.
    Note: Encourage them to get very specific and to test their conclusions with a company expert (such as a lawyer or account executive).



Sometimes a decision is too big to make in one step, because some of the information you need does not exist yet—events that will provide that information have not occurred. In this case, there is no point in trying to make the decision immediately. The best thing you can do is to keep as many options open as possible, as long as possible, until you have the information you need.

An example is a student who has been accepted to several colleges but does not know which one to go to. Each has different deadlines by which time she must A) send in a deposit to keep her place open, and B) either send in the rest of the tuition, or turn down the college to get her deposit back. She can wait until the Step A deadline looms for each college before making an initial decision about that college, and if she is not sure about it, she can decide merely to send in a deposit to keep that option open. As the Step B deadline nears for each college to which she sent a deposit, she has to make a decision about that college. But she will have more information, such as which other colleges have accepted her or where her friends are going, and will have had more time to think about it. This might have eliminated other options as well as given her more to work with on those that remain.

The following technique turns the team’s possible solutions into options for the future and tracks deadlines for keeping each option alive.


  1. For each option, identify:
    1. “What actions must we take right now to keep this option open, for now?
    2. “What deadlines will we face in keeping this option open as long as possible, and what actions will we have to take by each deadline?”
  2. Create a spreadsheet listing the options and their deadlines.
  3. Create action items for performing the immediate actions identified in Step 1a.
  4. Assign someone to be responsible for updating the spreadsheet and adding relevant items to the team’s agenda a couple of meetings before each deadline date.
  5. At that meeting, ask if, based on the latest information, the option remains a good solution compared to the other options.
    • If not, drop the option.
    • If so:
      1. Ask what actions you must take right now to keep the option open, referring to those identified in Step 1b or later reviews.
        Note: Time and new information may show the need to change the action.
      2. Ask if, based on those actions, this option remains a cost-effective solution compared to the other options, and:
        • If not, drop the option.
        • If so:
          1. Create action items for performing the actions identified.
          2. Determine any new deadlines you will face in keeping that option open, and what actions you will have to take by those deadlines.
          3. Update the options spreadsheet appropriately.
  6. Continue repeating steps 4 and 5 for all options until time identifies the best solution.


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