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You Got Game

Looking for a new way to get your employees thinking? Puzzles could produce the results you want.

When Jim Fall faced the task of building team spirit, explaining his company's mission statement and helping break the ice before an important trade show, he went to pieces. To focus on the company's goals for the upcoming show, Fall asked the 50 employees of Manufacturing Data Systems Inc. (MDSI), an Ann Arbor, Michigan, factory automation software and services supplier, to assemble a 10-foot jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle's message, "Putting the Pieces of Manufacturing Together," not only unified employees from various parts of the country but revealed MDSI's marketing slogan for the trade show.

The 45-minute exercise challenged everyone and encouraged communication, Fall says. "It went very well," he reports. "Everybody got down on the floor and worked together. It really drove home what we were trying to do--plus, we had fun."

Businesses smaller than MDSI and even larger than Microsoft are finding that puzzles and brainteasers are not only fun, but effective tools for evaluating job applicants, creating camaraderie and improving problem-solving and communication skills.

Mark Chester, owner of Rex Games Inc. in San Francisco, says his company has found a growing market for its Tangoes puzzles among trainers, in particular. Tangoes, a modern version of the ancient Chinese tangram puzzle, can be played by one or two people, or in teams. Combining artistic and mathematical elements, the puzzle enhances visual perception and helps develop problem-solving, creative thinking and teamwork skills.

Business interest in puzzles is attributed to the increasing emphasis on teamwork, the switch to an information economy, and the expanding need to come up with novel ways to engage employees' attention. Some claim doing puzzles makes employees smarter and happier. "Puzzles help develop visual, logical and strategic thinking," Chester says, "and they're entertaining."

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This article was originally published in the February 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: You Got Game.

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