cq3a7951-knowsy-boardTuckman describes four stages of team development – Form, Storm, Norm and Perform. I’m always looking for new tools to help accelerate teams through these stages and I have found a favorite new game – Knowsy®! I’ve been playing it quite a bit since I learned it in Luke Hohmann’s Innovation Games class (more on that later!).  Let me share two of those experiences with you.

Wait, what is Knowsy®?

Knowsy® can be played in person or online. It uses serious play to build empathy and understanding between players. There seems to be endless ways to modify (mod) it, so I’ll start with a simple example first.

  • Player #1 is given a topic and a list of five choices. They rank those choices according to their preferences. Example: Favorite Holiday [Christmas, Halloween, Valentines Day, St, Patrick’s Day, Birthday].
  • Other players guess what order Player #1 would rank those items.  Various points are awarded based on how close players rank the choices.
  • (My favorite part) Player #1 can explain WHY they ordered things that way. Example: “I love Christmas because our family always goes to Europe to visit our grandparents”.  The magic here is the discussion. Players can reveal some things that wouldn’t normally talk about in normal conversation and build …. empathy and understanding! Don’t worry introverts, you don’t need to share anything if you don’t want to.

Game #1: Knowsy® for Non-profit’s Values (Agilehood)

Steve playing Knowsy

Steve playing Knowsy

The Challenge: I volunteer with a group of IT professionals in Kansas City that formed to connect groups and communities together to foster collaboration using Agile and Lean techniques. After three years, we found our group had reverted back to the “storming phase”.  We decided to use Knowsy® to better understand our collective motivations and then re-align our work to those priorities. Some key points:

  1. Facilitators We asked someone outside the group to facilitate. It works better when there is an objective party that stays “outside” the discussion. Beth and Mandy from our Innovation Games class graciously agreed to be our impartial facilitators.
  2. Content Beth and Mandy culled our website and other artifacts and came up with “the list” for us to prioritize. The list was sent out a few days in advance so we could think about how we would prioritize it.
  3. Absentia Those that were absent from the game sent in their choices early. It was important to us to count everyone in, and about 1/3 of our members were not able to join.

The Results The team came away with some clear decisions around what was most important to the group.

Game #2: Knowsy® for New Teamsknowsy-topics

The Challenge My company has several people that do part-time work, most had never met. I thought Knowsy® would be a great way to break the ice before we dug into 2017 planning. We played the game with one modification – I handed out each person’s list BEFORE we even did introductions! I selected lists that I thought could be easily worked into introductions (e.g. favorite holidays, favorite vacation spots).

The Results We got to know each other, and I believe the subsequent strategy session was more open than it would have been. Game player Casey Atkins said “Knowsy® was a fantastic way to break the ice. It was fun to incorporate the game into our bios and made it easier to get to know people. I look forward to playing again!”

Key Learnings From the Two Sessions

Leslie playing Knowsy!

Leslie playing Knowsy!


  • The game is fun, and has a short learning curve.
  • There is a reason gamification works – people are competitive thus engage fully!
  • The game can be easily mod’ed to fit different circumstances. Tip: Play the game a few times before mod’ing it so you don’t inadvertently “lose” something essential to the game.
  • The game’s intent – to build empathy and understanding – works.

Improvements for next time

  • It is absolutely essential to allow time for the players to explain the thoughts behind their answers. The value in the game really comes from a deep discussion about how people’s perspective is different, and game play makes that less threatening. Make sure you design the agenda with enough time to allow for this. If an answer really surprises you, ask about it!
  • If you use your own lists, make the choices unique. If there is overlap or ambiguity between list items, it makes it hard to prioritize and even harder to guess someone else’s answers.

I plan to incorporate Knowsy into many activities in the future, especially in Retros (Which Agile Principle do we need the most work on?),  Team Chartering (What rules of engagement are important to you?), Prioritization (Which Epics are of highest value?) and Scrum Knowledge (How do we compare with experts?) .