Origins of 5toFold

Origin Story of 5toFold as a Tool within the Genuine Contact Way

Chris Weaver, 5toFold CreatorThis story is written as a testament to our dear friend and colleague, Chris Weaver. Chris passed away on September 20th, 2017. I first met Chris in 1996 at a conference, during which time he asked if I would be one of his mentors. He had two other mentors and valued the role of mentors in his life. I agreed and appreciated our long yet not long enough journey together.

Chris was committed to creating life-nourishing environments for his family, his community, organizations, and his students. He was part of our evolving work with Genuine Contact, making a lasting impact on all who met him, who engaged in conversations with him, who listened to his poetry and his music, and who participated in fire ceremonies with him. One of his significant contributions to us in the Genuine Contact community was the Five to Fold decision-making process. 

As do others, I miss Chris. I miss him calling me saying “I have something to talk about. I would like to drive down from the mountains in the morning and talk with you and Ward. I can leave at 4 and be there by breakfast. And can we have a fire in your backyard to support our conversation?” He would show up in his pickup truck, dreams would be shared, and good conversation followed. It was in these conversations that my partner Ward and I experienced the serious dimensions of Chris. He yearned for a peaceful world in which all were nourished to be their whole selves with a special commitment to those in the field of education. 

In his lifetime, including with his work with Genuine Contact, he made lasting contributions for many people. We give a special thanks to him for his gift of the Five to Fold decision-making process, and for asking for the commitment of the Genuine Contact Co-Owners to be stewards of Five to Fold and its use in the world. 

In the beginning

As a storyteller, origin stories are important to me to be told. My recollections form this telling of the origin story of Five to Fold as an important tool in the Genuine Contact way of working. It began at Pathfinder School in Seattle, Washington, USA. I made a trip to Pathfinder School in Seattle in 1997 to discover the ways that Chris was using Indigenous People’s wisdom as a teacher in this elementary school. White Eagle was one of his mentors.  

A demonstration that Chris made to me was the process by which he led the students in decision making. He had adapted a process that he learned called Five to Fist, for the good of the whole class and simultaneously for the good of the individuals in the class. He understood the value of sitting in a circle when important work was to be done and this included the work of decision making. We discussed the need for people to be able to contribute to decision making, to listen to others, to learn together, to be aware of the many perspectives, and then to make a decision together.

The learning that Chris had about decision making included all of these necessary ingredients. It had the added dimension of allowing even one person in the circle to vote against what was being proposed, to result in that proposal not going forward. It was beautiful to watch the students make their decisions using the Five to Fist process, taking their job seriously, listening and contributing well, and feeling proud of their right to make decisions and of the decisions themselves. 

Moving Beyond Consensus Decision Making

Chris and I talked about our own prior experiences in decision making in which consensus was expected from a group. Each of us felt that the decision was not in the best interest of the group yet because of the pressure for consensus to be reached, we (and probably others) didn’t vote against the decision. We experienced group pressure for compliance. 

We discussed our experiences of decision making by a majority vote in order for something to pass, sometimes a 51% majority. Neither of us liked a decision making process in which the perspectives, opinions and voices of up to 49% of the people were overshadowed by the majority.  

This led to us talking about the possibilities of adapting this Five to Fist decision making process to be used with adults in their organizations. We were excited. With passion and ongoing excitement, Chris worked on developing this decision making process to work for all kinds of groups of people, from intimate partners and families to large and complex organizations. The name changed from Five to Fist as it was used in simpler ways with children, to Five to Fold, realizing the feeling of a Fold was different than the feeling of a fist. Fold felt respectful. Fist felt combative.

Using Five to Fold with Organizations

At his invitation in early 2004, I joined him to facilitate a meeting of the Board of Directors at the Blue Sky retreat center in the mountains of North Carolina where he had taken the position of Director.  As we reached the stages in the retreat for decision making, and thanks to careful guidance from Chris, I used the Five to Fold process. 

Once the decisions were made, those of us interested in the process had a rich conversation sitting around a fire, about what we learned, what felt good for each of us and why, and what felt challenging. The process was appreciated by the participants. They felt heard and understood, yet also a little scared when it came to being the one to vote with a fold. The one who voted with a fold, stopping a proposal from going forward, talked about how big the fear within her was, and yet in the aftermath of working through a better proposal, she felt proud that the outcome, thanks to her courage with the fold, would be better for everyone. Others in the group talked about what it was like to see that vote of a fold, with initial dismay of ‘oh no’ and then also the sense of something better emerging when working through a better proposal.

As the facilitator, I shared my surprise at facilitating the first go around in which participants were to ask clarifying questions and how challenging it was to repeatedly ask people to stick to clarifying questions only, and not to make comments or criticisms. I found I had to listen very carefully and intervene the moment that I realized a person was not asking a clarifying question but was already commenting. This amount of intrusiveness in facilitation was very different for me. Yet, I understood that the process would be undermined without this care with the facilitation. Chris gave me feedback saying that keeping the clarifying round on track was apparently more challenging when facilitating a group of adults than it was when facilitating a group of children. It was a noticeable difference in the adaptation of this decision making method from use with children, to use with adults.

Connecting Five to Fold and Genuine Contact

Later in 2004, after this and other successes with using Five to Fold led Chris on one of his trips down the mountains to our house, to requesting of Ward and me, as the co-founders of Genuine Contact, to consider Five to Fold to be included as another module of the Genuine Contact program. From our discussions, he decided it was more appropriate as a  Genuine Contact tool with a similar status to other Genuine Contact tools, ie: the Deep Essence Tool. He was going to refine it further, with a hoped-for experiment with it within the Genuine Contact community at a future international Genuine Contact Trainers Mentoring Circle.

In 2006, our Genuine Contact trainer’s group needed to make decisions at the annual international Genuine Contact mentoring circle that were very big for us, setting our course to shift ourselves from a community of practice into a formal organization. Chris had come down from the mountains to participate and to recommend to us to use the Five to Fold decision making process. We successfully processed some very complex decisions and as a community learned to appreciate that Five to Fold helped us to make the best decisions in alignment with fulfilling the purpose of our newly developed organization. I like a lot that the decision to become an organization was achieved through this gift of Chris’s.

>> Read more about this first experience of using 5toFold in our Genuine Contact Organization

Since 2006, the developmental home of what we now call 5toFold has been within Genuine Contact and our international Genuine Contact Organization. We have had great benefit from this decision making process over many years. We were so pleased that at the international Genuine Contact trainers mentoring circle in September of 2007 held at our home in North Carolina, that a proposal was co-created for how even online decision making would be conducted by the Genuine Contact Co-owners Group using Five to Fold. This was voted on using the proposed process and became an Operating Given for how we as an organization would carry out online decision making. At the same time, we shifted our decision making to an online environment respecting that the Co-owners around the world could then participate in the voting, even if they couldn’t be physically present at an international mentoring circle. It has worked beautifully since that time when the process has been followed. 

Gifting Ceremony

And then we come to September 2008, again at an international Genuine Contact Mentoring Circle this time located in Virginia.  Chris Weaver gifted Five to Fold (5toFold) as a Genuine Contact Tool for anyone working with Genuine Contact to learn and use. In a typical Chris style that we had all come to know and love, and as a firekeeper, this gift was given during a ceremony he offered during one of the nightly fires that took place at Virginia Beach. Those who were present and were Co-Owners received this gift on behalf of the Genuine Contact Co-Owners Group, Co-Creators, and those working with Genuine Contact. The next morning, as this gift was being acknowledged during the Mentoring Circle, those of us who were gathered collectively accepted the responsibility of being stewards of the Five to Fold (5toFold) decision making process. 

Chris himself joined as a Genuine Contact Co-owner in 2014. Chris Weaver, together with Co-owner Thomas Herrmann of Sweden, undertook leadership to update the way we were working with 5toFold. They brought about the creation of a 5toFold Facilitation Team whom they trained and who would be responsible for facilitating decision-making processes for the Genuine Contact community, the Genuine Contact Co-owners Group.  Several people joined the team, and undertook  “To act collaboratively as stewards of the 5toFold methodology by maintaining a process description and resources, revising the methodology as needed. We invite people to connect with us about using 5toFold and offering workshops and trainings that share 5toFold in the GC community and beyond.” This team also committed to developing themselves as facilitators of 5toFold and in their collaborative work to be the keepers of the Five to Fold methodology and its sharing in the world. 

Chris remained an active Genuine Contact Co-owner until his death in 2017, leaving the Genuine Contact Organization with his gift of 5toFold, for which we continue to be grateful and to take our job as stewards with the responsibility that Chris entrusted to us. 


  • Birgitt Williams

    Birgitt, as well as being a Co-owner, is a Co-founder of the Genuine Contact program. She is an international management and organizational solutions consultant, author, meeting facilitator, teacher, and executive coach. Visit her website for more information.

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