Toolbox: Temperature checks

We are nearing the end of season 1, so please, let us know how you’ve found this season using our super-quick feedback form.

Episode 13* of the Resist + Renew podcast, where we feel the heat of temperature checks: what they bring, issues and benefits.

(* the observant amongst you will spot that this episode was meant to be number 14: we did some last-minute rearranging of the season. Please bear with us!)

‘A temperature check can visiblise polarisation in the room’ – Ali

Show notes, links

The perenially-useful Seeds for Change have a description of temperature checks on their tools page.

Ali also mentioned the work that Navigate do around convergent facilitation.

See our “What is facilitation?” podcast episode page for more general facilitation resources.


Ali: This is Resist + Renew.

Kat: A UK-based podcast about social movements

Sami: What we’re fighting for, why and how it all happens.

Ali: The host of the show are:

Kat: Me Kat

Sami: Er, me, Sami,

Ali: and me, Ali.

Sami: I’m recording us now, baby.

Ali: Shit, it’s a podcast!


Ali: Helloooo. And welcome back to the Resist + Renew podcast. This is another episode of the toolbox. We’ve switched the order around just now, so this is the second to last episode we have for the season. And before we jump in to the episode itself, just wanted to say a little bit about the end of this season. We’ve enjoyed it a lot — recording, interviewing people, chatting through stuff about facilitation tools. And it’s been really nice to hear some feedback informally via social media and through friends, about how it’s been going. We have some intentions and plans to carry on and do a season 2. But before we do that, we would really like to hear a bit more structuredly from people who have been listening. So it’d be great if you could fill in a little Google form we made, and give us some feedback about what you liked, what you didn’t like so much, what you want to hear more of, what you want to hear less chat about, and that will help us to make season 2 even better when we come around to do that. So there will be a link on the website page for this episode, and also we’ll put it out on social media. So if you’re up for that, that’d be amazing. And maybe some of you would like to chat to us more and have some kind of 1 on 1, or focus group type thing. We haven’t figured it out yet, but if you’re up for that, let us know on the form. So… today’s episode is a toolbox episode, and it is about temperature checks. So, Sami, would you like to kick us off and tell us what they are?

Sami: I would love to. So, temperature checks are a tool that is used by facilitators to kind of get some kind of often visual representation of how people are feeling about something. And so often it’s based around some kind of question. And, and they’re generally used as a tool to gauge whether people so like a classic example is if people want to like do people want to continue talking about something or do people feel happy to like move into a decision making kind of conversation from a discussing conversation would be the kind of example of where you use a temperature check. And they can there’s like, kind of more discreet, kind of like, yes, no versions of temperature chips, but often temperature checks are quite continuous. So, it’d be like, one would be, you’d like stand somewhere in a room based on how you feel about something which is getting a bit more spectrum liney, which we’ll find out about. spectrum line chat. And sometimes it’ll be more like kind of hands up hands down, or like hands kind of in the middle if you feel kind of middling about something. And, and often as a tool they use to kind of make visible similar to spectrum lines, whether there is agreement about something or not. And, and there’s kind of a bit of a crossover between temperature checks and voting. And I guess some of the key differences are temperature checks, generally, often more like indicative, voting is often considered more binding. Obviously, that depends on what the question you ask is, but often temperature checks are used to see like, how do people feel about something in a way that then means you can inform the next thing that you do. And like I said, they’re often also continuous, voting is often like a kind of Yes, know how you feel about something. And, and there are kind of crossovers between the two, like, for example, there’s kind of like more continuous voting mechanisms, which are quite similar to temperature checks, which are used, if people are familiar with quick consensus decision making, there’s like a kind of fist to five tool in there where you can use 0-1-2-3 or five fingers to express like how you feel about a thing. And and generally the best use when you’re, when you want to do something differently with the answer to the question, and so that was all a little bit esoteric with no examples. So Katherine, do you want to take it away with an example of using temperature checks within a workshop or meeting scenario?

Kat: Absolutely, um, a few years ago, I was facilitating a meeting with some new economy activists up in Manchester. And there were two big topics left that we had to work through and with quite limited time. And so I wanted to sort of check the temperature of the group on how to proceed. And so asked for raised hands, if people wanted to explore a particular topic, and hands in the middle, if they were either not that bothered or didn’t really mind, and then hands down low if they really didn’t want to do that, and then put some different options. And so we did the hands high, middle or low for the first topic that we could discuss. And just that, did it again, for the second topic, did it again, to try and get through both, and did it again, to do something completely different and not do either. And when we did, that, there was a really clear direction from the group to explore just one of the topics in detail. And, and we had a discussion after doing the temperature check that that would mean not being able to do the other topic. And the group agreed that they were happy to do that. So then that gave us a clear steer on what to do with limited time left.

Ali: Nice. I guess that brings up for me how, even though it’s not voting, that there’s still like, I don’t know it has, temperature checks can quite strongly influence what happens and like, it can be towards more of a majoritarian approach to things rather than like a consensus approach to things. So like, some people might have really wanted to talk about that other topic. But practically, it wasn’t possible. And, you know, that’s just how the process goes. And and compromises have to be made. But like there’s, there’s a power in in the tool and how it’s how it’s wielded, I guess. Something I’d add.

Sami: Yeah, I think there’s also something so like, one of the things that maybe get a little bit into the limitations that I see can often be a struggle in temperature checks is something that was not hit on by your framing of it is often there’s something like, because it can be used sometimes in a way that can be not too dissimilar from voting and can be quite similar to voting, how you frame the question is really important. And like I was definitely part of a group once where temperature checks, always kind of created more strife than just like kind of asking people how they felt about something, because because it was a group without a clear decision-making process, it means that anytime a temperature check came up, they were often seen as like a sly way of getting agreement on something. But it wasn’t really another way of getting agreement on stuff and a way of using that kind of majoritarian framing in a group that wasn’t particularly into majoritarian ways of agreeing stuff. And which meant they’re quite difficult, and the ways around that often around, either just not using temperature checks as a tool, or having clear decision-making processes. But then the third choice, which is kind of the way that you went in that example, Katherine is just make sure that the framing of what you’re doing is exhaustive. Like, don’t just say, do you want to do this thing or not? Because then what like, you kind of need to know what the not is, how you feel about the thing. So saying, like, do we want to discuss this, you will discuss option A or Option B, both or neither? At least gives people the kind of everyone will probably have at least some preference in one of those areas. And asking all of the questions means you don’t people don’t feel like they can’t engage the temperature check one, because they like I don’t want to say I feel more into something because actually, I feel it’s talking about both of them that making it clear and I guess that’s part of the implied thing is making it clear before you do any of them what the options are gonna be. And so that then people feel able to have a think about it and engage.

Ali: So I guess now we’re talking about limitations though. So another limitation we have noted is that a temperature check can visiblise like polarisation in in the room, if there’s a meeting where some people really want to do something, and some people really don’t want to do something, then things can just feel stuck, then you can, like, exacerbate that stuckness by visibilising it. So, knowing what you’re going to do, once you’ve got the data or the information from the group and knowing how to move forward in, in these various scenarios is like a really important thing to have in mind. Yeah, I guess like,

Kat: No I was just gonna say I really agree with that, and feels like sometimes visiblising, the stuckness for a group can be really helpful, especially if there are people in the group that think there is a clear way forward, like showing quite visibly. No, there isn’t because there’s a lot of disagreement is is really useful. But yeah, really back up the idea of what happens when you’re stuck on what do you do with the group once you know that? You need like a get out plan?

Ali: Yeah, totally. Yeah, and I’ll carry on it.

Ali: You go, I think it’s gonna be more relevant.

Sami: Okay. This is the joy of having turned our videos off to save on internet as you can see. And I was just gonna say that it has kind of similar in going off what Katherine was saying it’s got kind of similar issues to spectrum lines in that example, like they are a tool where often the outcome is polarisation. And so don’t use it in a situation where you don’t want the outcome to be polarisation. But if the polarisation is affecting how a conversation is going, then knowing that there’s polarisation is better than not knowing this polarisation but if people are kind of broadly all agreeing and moving forward polarising a room may not be helpful if people are already polarised, but they don’t have a language to describe it. That’s when temperature checks can be really helpful to be like, Oh, actually, I felt like we should just move on. And I was bringing an impatience to this conversation, because I didn’t see why we were still having this discussion. But actually, I can see that what I was detecting was that most people agreed, but not that everybody agreed. So then you could we can have a discussion of like, well, do we feel happy going on? Not everyone agrees? Or do we want to amend the thing we’re talking about to get to a point where people are happier with it, etc? Which is why it’s so heavily crosses over with decision making processes? What are you gonna say, Ali?

Ali: I was gonna say like, I don’t even know how much of a limitation This is. But I know people feel strongly about it sometimes is facilitator bias when using a temperature check, especially if you’ve got option A option B in the same thing. So people don’t like that option being hands down, it feels negative. And people feel like, hands up is more positive. So maybe the way that Katherine talks about it, and like having multiple ones way, your option is always up to like, indicate how much you like it. can get around that. As I said, I’m not like totally full. Yeah, I don’t really buy it. 100%. But I can understand that people do find it a thing.

Kat: I just want to come back to the thing about like, intentionally doing this to show that the group is stuck. And, and then noticing, like, just you’re wanting a bit more information on then what do you do? So you’ve used a temperature check, you see that there’s some polarisation even if it’s like only a couple of people disagreeing? What would be your next step in terms of how you work with the group at that point?

Sami: Yeah, so I think, as a person, like, who is as much facilitating things within groups that I’m not a part of as facilitating things within groups that I am a part of, if it’s a group, that I’m not a part of the reason that I was highlighting that the point before around how it links with decision making processes is because often then kind of one of the follow up questions, if it’s not something that’s already clear to you as be like, how do you normally deal with divisions like this? Like do you have, even if you don’t have an implicit written down decision-making process? What have you done in previous discussions like this? And that’s not necessarily what you should do? Because sometimes it’s like, oh, we just don’t really, we just kind of move on be like, okay, I don’t think I don’t think we’re just going to ignore that there’s disagreement in this situation, we may agree that we’re not going to do anything, we may agree to not act on it. But we’re not going to not pretend like we’re not going to pretend like it’s not happening. And so I think, like identifying if there is some kind of like established way of moving forward, which could be like, so one of the classic things is some a lot of groups will operate within like kind of a blended consensus model where I’ll try and come up with a proposal which everybody can agree to and back. But if that’s not possible, there’ll be willing to go to like some kind of some form of vote often like a non like a non simple minoritarian vote, but maybe like two thirds of the people need to agree or whatever. And then like, and then that’s an agreed way of moving through and it’s fine, and then that, then at least you’ve got a process for that. And then I guess often one of the follow up things which often one of the tensions, a classic thing which people are trying to avoid is, in the situation you were describing, Katherine, if you’re saying there’s two things to talk about what you and you’ve got half an hour, what you don’t want to do is spend 15 minutes discussing which one you want to talk. Because then you’re you’re not really resolving the problem, or you’re resolving a different problems. And, and so often being very clear about timeboxing discussions, I think, can be really helpful, especially in the scenario you’re talking about to be like, okay, so the reason we were doing this is because we wanted to spend time discussing one of these things properly, rather than both of them in a way that’s really rushed. So let’s take five minutes, give them that seems like there is disagreement to maybe hear from the people who disagree about what the concern is that, like, I’m a very consensus influenced facilitator. So be like, what are your concerns? Are there any ways of amending the thing we’re discussing to make sure that your concerns could be mitigated? And, and or how strongly do you feel about them? Is it like, oh, like, I’m just I’m not really into it, but I’m not against it. Like, it’s just not my favourite or like, no, this feels like a really fundamental problem to me that I think we should spend time talking about. And I wouldn’t feel comfortable moving forward with that without that having happened. And I think all of that gives you that kind of useful information, as a facilitator to be able to work out whether you’re like, Okay, well, we said, we’re gonna get five minutes to this discussion, we’ve given five minutes, it seems like we’ve got a clear way forward. Great. Let’s go with it. And if you don’t, then I guess you can just transparently play that back to the group and be like, well, we said we’d take five minutes on this to see if we can get to a place of agreement of how we can move forward, we can’t. Our options are, we continue discussing this to see how we can come up with a way forward, which probably means we wouldn’t be able to move forward on it in this discussion, how to like them, that’s the thing that’s gonna happen. Or you’re basically railroading somebody in that situation is if anybody’s willing to drop their disagreement. And if they do, that’s probably something you’ve got to come back through in the closing to be like that you did basically override some of these concerns previously, for the purpose of expediency, like, Is that fine? Because if that’s not fine, you probably need to have a chat about how you make decisions. Because you probably shouldn’t keep doing this. This is this is how friction starts or exacerbates. Well, I thought I was gonna give a one sentence response that. I didn’t.

Kat: Thank you, though. That’s good chance useful to hear it.

Sami: Did you have any thoughts? Ali? Or Katherine? Were you posing it as a question? Because you didn’t have a clear idea or an answer? Or was it something that well, you also have a thing to bring?

Kat: I mean, I was posing it cuz I was just curious. I feel like I’m, I’m often in in groups where there’s a stuck feeling. And it feels a bit like the million dollar question of how do you unstick? And just curious to hear, yeah, are there other ways of moving through.

Ali: I think in my mind, I, what Sami you were saying would be like a good process. And like the ideal process. I think basically, finding ways to give space to the disagreement and the people who are less into whatever is going on, or the proposal is to, to make space for that. And yeah, I don’t know. Like, I think you could probably add a add some more tools on top of that, to make that. more structured, depending on the group, I guess. I know, Navigate are really into convergent facilitation. I don’t fully know what it is. But what my like baseline understanding of it is, is basically use the conflict icebergs in that in that setting, in that setting. So like ask people to go in, ask the people who are polarised to talk about their interests or their needs in this situation, maybe ask everyone to say what their needs are, and try and build a bit of understanding between people in that situation through taking things down into a deeper level, rather than what I think is the best thing to do in this particular mode. But yeah, so I think, I think essentially, that’s what I would try and do, whether I call it something a specific tool or not.

Sami: Mm hmm. Should we move on to some top takeaways?

Ali: Yeah.

Sami: I’m happy to start. I, and like we’ve discussed before, like, I really enjoy using, and temperature checks to highlight like, especially if there is a lack of agreement and make that visible to people within a space. And what I will generally use temperature checks for in practice is as kind of like forks in plans to be like, if everybody agrees we should do this. And if everybody doesn’t agree, then we should do that. Which kind of answers one of those questions of how what do you do when there is disagreement as you can often plan in advance for if there is disagreement, we’ll do this. And if there’s not, we’ll do that. And, and often, I think they can be really useful in the kind of a, especially if we’re doing something like quite high level like strategic discussions where there’s lots of framing, there’s lots of assumptions and things like that. Having these kind of like iterative approaches to conversations that temperature checks can really help you flesh out where there’s agreement where there isn’t and be like, okay, so it feels like what was spiels that we’re in agreement about this, and it feels like we’re not in agreement about this. So let’s spend a bit of time confirming we are in agreement here, in which case, we can probably move on and leave that side and then spend our time focusing on where there is disagreement. So like that’s having them as like a tool to highlight where there’s disagreement as an opportunity to them focus on the disagreement is my favourite use of a temperature check.

Kat: Nice.

Ali: Yeah, I’d say that’s my favourite bit too. And just like confirming my intuition that things feel a bit stuck. And pointing that out to everybody in the group would be the thing and I guess it’s like, also a way that nonverbal and more nonverbal feedback from because you can have a conversation with like, a big group of people and three or four people will take up most of the space, saying polarised positions. And yeah, it can be a way of like bringing everybody else in without needing them to want to say any more if they don’t want to, you can just like confirm a bit more about where the group as a whole is up. Katherine do you have take away?

Kat: I think just something you were saying Sami, something about, like not accidentally polarising the group if that’s not your intention. And, and, and yeah, thinking also about the facilitator bias. And so how you’re asking the question, and can shape the direction that you then go into being quite intentional, which can be difficult if you’re, if you’re sensing something in the room, and then you want to do a temperature check to check the sensing, having to come up with a good framing of a question on the fly is is challenging, so and maybe having a few framings up your sleeve can be helpful.

Sami: Great.

Ali: Nice. That’s the end of our toolbox. Its empty.

Sami: We’re done with that. No one. No one’s allowed to do anything in a meeting that is not one of those seven, yeah. One of them’s facilitations

Sami: six tools and a meta tool.

Sami: Okay, well, good stuff.


Sami: we’re not good at closing things, it’s not our forte.

Ali: thanks for listening. This was the last toolbox episode. We have one more long-form episode coming up, an interview with Farzana Khan from Healing Justice London, check that out next week. As we said from the beginning of this episode, it’d be really great to hear some feedback from anyone who’s been listening along to these episodes. Please take a couple of minutes to fill in our google form for that, it’d be much appreciated. As ever, thanks to Klaus for letting us use that song,  Nef, for our backing track. And if you wanna find out anything more about Resist and Renew as a training collective, check us out at, and we’re on all the social medias. See you next time!

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