Empowerment v Command and Control Game – The Human Knot

For a fun game to teach empowerment v command and control I like the Human Knot game.

In this game, two teams are given a simple problem to solve. The empowered team tries to solve the problem with all members of the team contributing. The other team tries to solve the problem with a manager using command and control.

This video shows the setup and execution of the actual human knot.

Additional Setup for Empowerment v Command and Control Game

  • Split your people into two teams of 8 to 12 people.
  • Ask anyone if they don’t like physical contact and allow them to step out of the game (they can be the Manager or Scribe).
  • Ask each team for a volunteer to be a Manager. The Manager is not part of the human knot.
  • Ask each team for and a Scribe to write down what they see and hear. The Scribe is not part of the human knot.
  • Set the teams into human knots as shown in the video above.
  • Empowered Team – The entire team can work together to make decisions and unknot themselves.
  • Command and Control Team – Only the manager can make suggestions and the team must act on them. Team members are not allowed to take actions without the manager telling them to do so. You may need to police this and remind the command and control team to only do what the manager tells them to.
  • The Scribe writes down things they hear and observations from their team on a whiteboard.
    Record the time it takes for each group to unknot themselves.


When the human knots are both untied, ask the following questions.

  • How long did each team takes to get untied?
  • Which team was faster? Why?
  • What did people think the difference between the two teams was?
  • Review the notes on the whiteboard.
  • Which team would participants prefer to be part of?
  • What other observations did they have?

Other benefits

Team building
Get to know each other
Fun :)

More information about the power of empowerment

This exercise goes nicely with the Turn the Ship Around video by David Marquet.