Clothesline for target setting by consensus

The clothesline is a specific adaptation of Consensus Reaching and helps a group arrive at a target and develop a shared commitment to it through that process.

Target setting can be the most emotive and divisive of group decisions, and so it is no accident that targets are often set for you.
No accident, but of little real value either.
Effective motivation requires that people embrace the target that has been set. That does not necessarily mean that they believe the target is logically achievable from where they are standing, but it does mean that they believe it has personal and collective value in driving the behaviours that would make the greatest progress against it, and they are thereby willing to really commit themselves to pursuing its delivery.
To see what we mean by that, take a look at  Castles in the air – Setting stretch targets.
But for them to arrive at that sincere commitment, they must be able to fully engage with the arguments and the possibilities. They must be able to sift the facts and experience, and to hear motivational stories to lift their aspirations. And they must be able to weigh up how much their colleagues feel these things too, through hearing their voices and watching their faces.
The clothesline’s name comes from the length of string stretched across the room where the discussion takes place. It has cards of different values pegged along its length to represent a number line between the lowest value that any member of the group would wish for, and the highest value that anybody in the room might aspire to.
As per Consensus Reaching step 1, the facilitator checks everyone understands specifically what the clothesline represents (what the measure means). People then individually position themselves along the line at the value they would like to set as the target – the value which they would unilaterally set at this point in time if it was up to them. Standing along the line also helps to ensure that you have everybody’s involvement and engagement in the process.
And then the process continues from Step 2, but with the opportunity for people to shift position as they are swayed by the arguments given. As with  Red Green Cards for Consensus Reaching the facilitator may find it helpful to keep a balance of flow of opinions from different ends of the line.
When step 10 is reached, if you have the group leader present, we would recommend that you pull her/him from the line to watch the final adjustment. Then ask the people on the line to stand at the value on the line they would pick, but only based on what they have seen or heard (if anyone has some other pertinent reason that has not been voiced, now is the time to submit it).
After people have adjusted their position, ask the leader to pick the value that they can best justify to the group based on where they are standing.
Over time you will come to discern where behaviours are undermining the commitment in the process. You will able to spot the person who refuses to move no matter what they hear (and nobody can know everything that will be said when they first stand on the line!) or the person who takes an extreme final position to shift the average in the direction they want. And over time you will find the words, both in the room and outside of it, to the person, to their leader, and to the group as a whole which will address such manipulative behaviours.
The following link provides more information on the tool – Excerpt from Chapter 7 of Managing by Design (please start at ‘setting targets’ on page 98 – reading the left hand side only)

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