Wednesday, November 5, 2008 by Dave Blum

We live in a puzzle culture.  Walk into any book store and you’ll likely see an entire shelf devoted to crosswords puzzles, and perhaps a whole section to Sudokus.  Just yesterday, on a flight from San Francisco to Denver, I watched a mother and child poring over a Word Search book for the entire two-hour duration of the journey. As puzzles are so clearly popular with such a wide and varied population, why not leverage puzzles as team building exercises?  Here are 5 arguments for using puzzles as corporate team building acitivities:

1) Puzzles help you recognize patterns and apply logic:  Let’s say you have a set of treasure hunt clues that begins with one in Morse Code.  Only it’s not dots and dashes…it’s quarters and pennies, or dogs and cats, arranged in Morse Code patterns.  Recognizing the patterns and decoding them is excellent practice for all types of professions, particularly lawyers and computer coders.

2) Puzzles require the employment of reverse engineering:  You’re working through a cryptogram puzzle and realize the final answer is a quote from Mark Twain.  In that quote, you determine the word “you” is most certainly followed by the word “are”.  Working backwards from the answer to the puzzle helps you figure out the other un-deciphered letters.  That’s reverse engineering…starting from the end and working backwards then forwards, then backwards again.

3) Puzzles allow for delegation according to specialties:  You’ve just received your scavenger hunt list.  One puzzle is a crossword.  Another is a Sudoku.  A third is movie trivia.  Assessing who is good at each type of puzzle and then delegating accordingly is excellent practice in leveraging your team’s diverse knowledge and skills.

4) Puzzles often require pairs to accomplish the task:  Word searches are great example of a puzzle where two sets of eyes are better than one.  Also, it’s often helpful to have one person calling out a puzzle and another looking at the decoder sheet.  Puzzles can almost always be solved faster with two people–an excellent reminder to people who like to “go it alone”.

5) Puzzles encourage cross-team collaboration:  Let’s say you have one team that needs a Braille decoder sheet and another that requires a list of world flags.  Getting them to share their resources can really help break down silos.

For more on puzzles as they relate to scavenger hunts and treasure hunt ideas, click here.