Team engagement with the Niko-Niko Calendar

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by Management 3.0 Facilitator Stefan Nüsperling

“The primary focus of any manager should be to energize people,” emphasizes Jurgen Appelo in his book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. One way to energize people is to stimulate interaction between individuals at the team level. But it is not always easy to have smooth communication within a team when everybody is busy and working on his or her own tasks.


A beautiful way I discovered to help break down the forcefield of low communication among Japanese teams is the Niko-Niko Calendar. It’s a daily practice where each team member evaluates your working day, giving feedback to your teammates about it.

Niko-Niko (ニコニコ) is a Japanese term which means “with a smile”. I saw the calendar the first time at a company visit at the Tokyo based company VAL. They are using a Niko-Niko Calendar everyday and they have a record of several months. Amazing!

The usage of the Niko-Niko Calendar is pretty easy.
You need the following:

  • Download the Niko-Niko Calendar template and print it or create your own unique one.
  • Write the team members’ names in the horizontal boxes to the left and the calendar days of your working week in the boxes across the top.
  • Put the calendar somewhere visible, for example on your task board.
  • Buy at least one set of colored dot stickers (red, orange, yellow, green) for each team member.

How to use the Niko-Niko Calendar

NikoNiko Calendar

At the end of a working day the team gathers together. Each team member reviews quickly the day on an individual basis and decides if it was a good day or not so good day. Secretly each person selects a rating from the stickers:

  • Green = It was an awesome day
  • Yellow = It was a good day
  • Orange = It was a not so good day
  • Red = It was a bad day

In my version, I’ve left out a middle rating because I believe it would be the majority of choices and the significance of a middle rating is low.

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When ratings are selected, each of you shares your choice openly to the team. Then you put the chosen colored sticker on the calendar and give a short explanation why it was chosen. The reason can be work-related but also personal or health-related, it’s your choice. For example one of my teammates had a broken ankle and of course this influenced his mood for the day negatively.

Besides the benefit of better daily communication, this practice enhances the empathy between the team members as they express their feelings to each other. And the team members can leave the working day behind, not bringing something unsaid home.

A virtual version of this game — even created on a spreadsheet — is also a way to create clarity  and empathy on a remote team that may not notice a broken ankle or poorly colleague.

And the team, as well as other parties (manager or Scrum Master) gain visual feedback and insight into the overall team mood. If you keep the Niko-Niko Calendar as a history, you can see how the happiness of your team evolves over time.

One special rule we created, that if everybody had the same color we celebrated and someone on the team brings in a box of cookies the next day and gave it to someone random on another team (not ours). This was quite fun.

Learn more about the Niko-Niko Calendar here as well as download the Management 3.0 template for free.

I run the Niko-Niko Calendar exercise at every workshop, at least once at the end of a workshop day. I like it because I get immediate feedback on how the workshop went, and I gain insights into what I could improve.

The biggest win I got from this tool is understanding why people behave how they have behaved. For example, a person seems not enjoying the workshop thoroughly, and I think it is related to the workshop, but when running the Niko-Niko Calendar, it turns out that this person is upset because of work or private reasons, not because of the workshop, which she enjoyed a lot. So, this tool proves again how important it is to share each other’s feelings to create a bond and avoid misunderstandings. Like Jurgen Appelo said: “Management is 95% communication and only 5% instructions”.

So, try it out and let me know about your experience below!

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