There is a real need to generate active involvement and engagement and to link that energy to innovation and continuous improvement. So, I wanted to share some ideas about how to get many things accomplished using a great interactive tool that I call “Dot Voting.” There are a bunch of ways to nuance it, but the basic thought is that it is all about actions to generate ownership of ideas.

The impetus to post the blog was a call from the CEO of an engineering company that had great participation from his people in general but he was hearing that better overall alignment needed to occur. He, of course, thought the mission and vision were clear but he also was perceptive enough to understand that everyone was working hard but not in perfect alignment. He was looking for some ideas to build a better sense of consensus among his 23 people.

We discussed his use of my Mission Statement Exercise, which is designed to generate a shared sense of ownership and help develop a clearer sense of goals and values. This is a complete toolkit that we sell on our website. It includes a simple Square Wheels powerpoint set and an explanation of a Fast Networking exercise designed to generate involvement and ownership across all the tabletops.

That Mission Statement development exercise is designed to get their ideas and to accomplish that quickly and efficiently. The discussions that result are powerful approach to clarifying expectations and discovering if expectations, goals and measurements might be incongruent to the overall desired outcomes in a framework that encourages everyone’s thoughts and participation. Involvement is a key to all this. After all,

Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car,
If you don’t know where you are going,
any path will get you there!

Geese Flying is about organizational behavior

Things are really simple most of the time. When you see geese flying, they work together but you also might notice that one side is longer than the other. Do you know why that is? Simple: there are more geese on that side…

So, the Mission toolkit lays out ideas for how one can pretty quickly get everyone on board and aligned to a common vision of the future and even feel as if they have played a part in that.

There is another tool that works great with large groups to get ideas and opinions and that can help drive a sense of consensus and that is Dot Voting, which also goes by Multi-Voting, cumulative voting and even dotmocracy. The concept and approach are quite simple and straightforward and there are different forms of use and delivery. As you might gather, it is democratic and evenly weighted in terms of individual opinions.

Some of the benefits include:

  • People get to browse a lot of data and information processed by other people
  • They get a chance to give their vote or votes to items on which they agree
  • It works with small tabletops as well as large events
  • Lots of ideas and information are collected and processed, allowing for an immediate “read” on the results as well as continued study and analysis. 
  • Everyone participates and everyone is engaged
  • The manager or facilitator can stay neutral and allow for peer pressure and peer support to bring ideas and potential actions together
  • One can reach an immediate decision, if things are structured that way
  • It works exceptionally well for brainstorming and for Square Wheels idea sessions

The basic rules are as follows:

  • A facilitator is needed to run the session and keep things moving. That can be a manager or supervisor, but they would need to be neutral on the content and focused on allowing the session to flow.
  • Each person gets a certain number of colored sticky dots. All people get the same number.
  • People vote on the ideas or work done by a group of people at a tabletop. 
  • People cannot vote on their own work.
  • You may have multiple rounds of voting, each using different dots meant to indicate different things (discussed further, below)
  • You share a time limit for voting – and you ring a bell to suggest that there are only 30 seconds left for voting
  • You want everyone to have sufficient time to look at the work of many or all of the other tables. You want them to see how many good ideas there are as well as have a vote in what happens
  • Some closure or summary is needed. This can be done by the facilitator or by people who speak for their tabletop’s work or by a senior manager who has the position power to do things. 
  • All votes and ideas and work are anonymous
  • You may drive for some immediate action, or actions can be deferred. You can allow people who want to work on that “popular” item to form self-managed teams and go stand by or sign their names to that sheet of ideas.
  • You can always also provide a Parking Sheet for collecting other good ideas that did not get represented in this immediate work.

Some attempt may be made to insure that each tabletop is working on something different than the others and we generally use the Square Wheels metaphor about how organizations really work to set up the language and process of improvement. A sample worksheet looks like this:

The Square Wheels problem solving worksheet of Scott Simmerman

In a typical Square Wheels® session, for example, we allow tabletops to share 3 to 5 Square Wheels on worksheets and/or easel pad paper. Then, we first give each table one Large Colored Dot to stick on one of the Square Wheels that they would like to work on, with the goal of developing two or three real solutions or approaches to implement Round Wheels.

Before the tables can then start to work, we review the overall selection to see if any of the selected Square Wheels are the same as others (since one list might have a similar item as another and two different tabletops select the same one). Or, you can just let the process flow. The idea is to allow each tabletop to select an issue that they want to deal with, one that they will have some degree of ownership of.

You can also allow each table to vote more than one time on the finished ideas. You might give each person 4 red dots to vote on which idea is the most critical one to address or give them yellow dots to indicate which would be the most politically or culturally difficult to implement, or green dots to indicate which might have the biggest financial impact on the organization.

Dot Voting SWs 7

I will generally give out blue dots to allow people to vote on which issues they want to see fixed immediately.

Even with a really large group (200+ people), a round of dot-voting will only take 5 or so minutes. What you also get are people looking around at all the other ideas of the other tabletops. (Heck, sometimes people ask me if they can have more dots — I take that as a very positive sign and I do give them extra dots!)

Dot Voting SWs

This is a great kind of informal team building session in that you can allow people to really get involved and working together for improving the workplace. You can see that some issues definitely attract the attention of the group, while others seem less critical.

You can also combine this approach with a Roadblocks Management activity or the Mission Development mentioned above.

(Another beautiful aspect of this approach is that it tends to suppress that “Pet Peeve” kind of thing that one worker might have about something. They might be complaining about one thing for years, but if it gets NO dots, then there is a message there that they sometimes receive. At least, in the future, you can talk about it as not getting much actual support from others in the workgroup!)

Hope this is useful. And try out our tools for involving and engaging people for workplace improvement,


For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

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