Group decisions with playing cards.

Group decision making can be tricky.

You don’t want one person to dominate the conversation or the decision.

We borrow the planning poker technique from Scrum and use playing cards to help large groups make better (and more honest) decisions.

Group decision making technique -- playing cards.

Why group decisions are tough.

Peer pressure, laziness, social norms, fear of public speaking, your boss is a loudmouth.

Co-creating in groups can lead to amazing ideas and innovation, but it can also be a difficult way to make a decision.

Group decisions can be poor if:

  • initial comments affect subsequent ones
  • opportunities are not available for equal comment
  • someone uses authority to influence

How to use playing cards.

In Scrum, planning poker is used as a consensus-based, group decision making technique to avoid cognitive bias.

It helps balance the discussion and decision across the entire group.

We modified planning poker to help large groups make decisions in situations such as vendor selection, strategic planning and project prioritization.

How to use playing cards as a group decision making technique.


  • 1 deck of cards per 4 people
  • create sets of ace, 2, 3, 5, 8, king
  • ace is low, king is high
  • move the remaining cards aside (you don’t need them)
  • give everyone a set of the 6 cards


  • cards represent confidence or importance
  • cards stay face down
  • cards are shown at the same time
  • everyone talks about their card choice
  • the moderator breaks ties


  1. select a moderator (who does not play) to run the discussion
  2. once the discussion is over, each person selects one card
  3. the card is placed face down, in front of the person
  4. everyone calls their cards simultaneously
  5. high and low cards speak first
  6. repeat steps 2-5, working toward group consensus


The purpose of using playing cards is not the game itself, but rather the conversation that it creates. You want your team members to hear why someone threw a 2 or an 8. Use that collective knowledge to come to a consensus on the decision, even if you need to play multiple rounds.

What we learned.

  • Playing cards are a good way to ensure an even group discussion. They help reserved or shy peers find room to speak, while making it difficult for any one opinion to anchor the conversation.
  • This technique is good to use when your group is made up of different teams, stakeholders or peers. We have found that teams made up of members from both inside and outside an organization develop empathy for each other quicker when using the playing card technique.
  • You can use it as a scoring system. We have modified the method to tally the totals of cards shown to create an overall score for the idea or vendor being discussed.
  • The cards act as a barrier for some players. Anecdotally, we find that some participants are able to be more conversational because they feel the cards provide a focal point besides themselves.

Playing cards are just one group decision making technique that we use to help companies make better decisions.

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