Roberta's Rules: Meetings and More

May 4, 2010


Filed under: meeting facilitation,Uncategorized — Roberta's Rules of Order, author @ 8:09 am
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What is a “straw poll” and why is in useful in groups that meet to make decisions?

Legend says that during the Renaissance, when someone wanted to know which way the wind was blowing, they would through a piece of straw in the air and watch the way it was blown around and down to the ground. This was simple and very practical, particularly before wind meters were invented. The same concept can be used in meetings.

Although Robert’s Rules of Order does not allow straw polls (who knows why?), they are one of the most effective ways to tell “which way the (opinion) wind is blowing” in a group.

When a committee or team brings a proposal to a larger group that may result in a motion passed by the group – a non-binding straw poll is a great way to find out the opinion of the group before lengthy discussions and win/lose voting. (See Roberta’s Rules of Order and the companion QuickStart Guide).

Most people think of a straw poll as a “yes/no” non-biding vote. The group leader may say: “Before we vote, let’s see where people stand on this issue with a non-biding straw poll. How many in favor, how many not?” While this may indicate where group members stand on an issue, it doesn’t provide information about their thinking, and can serve to polarize the group.

As an alternative, there are simple and more productive methods involving multiple-choice straw polls. Here’s one…

Give everyone in the meeting pieces of paper (cut from construction paper) in three colors: red, yellow and green. When a straw poll is taken, members hold up the card that reflects their opinion:

Red Stop. I don’t think we should proceed as stated/written
Yellow Caution. I think we need more information or analysis
Green Go. I think we should approve this “as is”.

After this poll is taken quickly by a show of colors, it’s easy to know “which way the wind is blowing” and have more productive discussions.

When the majority are showing GREEN, ask: “For those who are YELLOW, what would need to change or improve to go ahead? (Repeat the same for those showing RED.) Depending upon how many RED and YELLOW cards are shown, the proposal may need to be reworked.

What other techniques have you seen or used in groups to that avoid wasting time discussing items most people have agreed upon?


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