Virtual Fatigue was setting in from back-to-back video conferences.

The team were doing their best by speaking up and contributing ideas.

Yet they seemed to be stuck in a pattern of long discussions without reaching agreement on a course of action.

The leader asked red10 to help. By observing them in action, the coach saw that the team needed to develop skills in the use of four “Powerful Phrases” that helped them to “prick up their ears” and move the team from discussion into action:

  1. I PROPOSE ……
  3. Are there ANY OBJECTIONS to this proposal?
  4. HOW SUPPORTIVE would you be of the proposal on a FIST-5?

How would your team be different if it adopted them?


If you find this article useful, have you seen our Free Kit for Virtual Meetings ?

This article is one of the Behaviours in our 3Bs Virtual Kit – Basecamp, Behaviours and Bag of Tools to help leaders facilitate great virtual meetings. There are advanced tools that you may be interested in too, such as Breakout Rooms and Annotations for prioritizing

Let’s run through each of them in turn:


The first step is to get the team into the habit of making proposals.

Individuals are encouraged to make a simple statement “I PROPOSE…” followed by a suggested way forward that is actionable.

The proposal can be written on a flipchart if the team is face to face, or in “chat” if they are working virtually. This is helpful for 3 reasons: –

  1. People don’t have to remember the words whilst they are considering the proposal.
  2. It makes sure everyone knows what the proposal is – with the best will in the world attention can lapse, especially in virtual meetings.
  3. People who are not native speakers of the language being used in the meeting may find it easier to understand a written proposal.

Our experience is that it is rare for the first proposal to be the right one. This can be the reason why some leaders can shy away from using this assertive language. Yet without a first proposal, teams end up just in lots of discussion. It is really important to make proposals to get action started.

It can therefore be helpful to put round it like “This is just to get us started – I’d welcome builds or counters…my proposal is…”


The chances are that the initial proposal isn’t quite right, but it gives you an idea – you can now see what a better proposal would look like.

We are now ready for the Powerful Phrase “My COUNTER PROPPOSAL is……”

It’s good for the original proposer to know that you appreciated them getting things started, so words like this are very much appreciated:

“That was a good starter and it’s made me think about… Putting all of that together, my COUNTER PROPOSAL is ……”

The counter proposal also needs to be actionable and recorded on a flip chart or in “chat”.

3 – Are there ANY OBJECTIONS to the proposal?

If time is short, you’re confident that everyone has spoken up, and the majority like the proposal, then the quickest way to check alignment is:

“Okay, it sounds like there is lots of support, so let’s check – Are there ANY OBJECTIONS to the proposal?”

If you have time – and you want to ensure you really do have alignment – then you are better off using phrase #4 below – HOW SUPPORTIVE…

4 – HOW SUPPORTIVE would you be of the proposal on a FIST-5?

Fist-5 is a technique for checking the spread of support.

Each team member indicates their degree of support for the proposal using their hand – five fingers in the air means fully support, a fist means don’t support at all. A fully supported proposal became a commitment to action.

When working face-to-face – or on a video conference tool like Zoom where its Gallery View allows you to see up to 50 videos on one screen and people can hold their hands up to the camera so they can be clearly seen – this method works well.

When working virtually, an alternative is for everyone to type a number between 0 and 5 into “chat”. This also has the advantage that names are displayed next to numbers so everyone can see at a glance who is supportive and who is not.

It is important to get team members who are less supportive (3 or less) to speak up. Otherwise the people who were very supportive end up vigorously agreeing with each other and the discussion does not move on. A person who is not supportive should be encouraged to move on to making a counter proposal.

Dramatically More Effective

These simple changes to get the team to use Powerful Phrases in meetings had a dramatic impact on their team’s effectiveness.

We’ve found that teams can find a very helpful rhythm by using Powerful Phrases in a sequence – see our suggestions on Virtual Decision Making .

If your team would find a mnemonic useful then you can remember the four Powerful Phrases as:


In case you were wondering, the colour-coding is to connect these Powerful Phrases to the Communicating Behaviours from Professor Rackham’s research, which shows a direct correlation from behaviour to the most effective meetings.

You can implement these six Powerful Phrases without help, yet often behaviours aren’t seen by the team themselves and it is helpful to have a team coach taking the helicopter view, suggesting new patterns that stick. If you think a red10 coach might be able to help your team, please contact us.