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Any leader concerned with employee engagement understands that the process is not always fun and games. On the contrary, one of the most challenging endeavors a leader can undertake is sparking passion in people for the role they perform. Moreover, the process becomes exponentially complex when you add developing employees’ critical thinking, strategic planning, and pattern recognition into the mix. And as certificate training becomes the norm, employees become desensitized and less earnest to learn. To them, training is just another check in the box. 

When traditional methods fail to meet expectations, it’s time to spice it up. A little lateral thinking can go a long way. Implementing out-of-the-box strategies to spark learning is a simple way to increase employee engagement while igniting productivity. One fantastic recommendation is holding a chess tournament in the workplace. That’s right, chess. 

Why chess? Chess is more than a game. It is an art and one that has the power to break up monotony while unleashing your employees’ potential. Like business, it is a game of minds attempting to gain the advantage, retain the initiative, and defeat the competition. In my opinion, there is no better way to increase strategic ability better than chess. Although I play chess recreationally, the secondary benefits have been outstanding and have improved many of my essential business capacities. 

Here are a few capacities that have been improved:  

Chess and Critical Thinking.

Chess is a game where you must think first before you move. A player can pose and face multiple threats at the same time. Therefore, it is critical to assess the board and gather data to identify the optimal move. As players consider their actions, they activate the brain regions associated with abstract reasoning—thus developing their analytical ability. 

It’s a matter of neuroscience. The act of learning changes patterns in the brain. With more practice comes more skill because we rewire our brains’ communication network. And that’s the best part; when we play chess, we remap our brain to problem solve. 

Online or in the office, a chess tournament would get the neurons fired up and test your employees’ critical thinking skills. Your team will enjoy the event while mapping new neural schema! You never know how far down the rabbit hole they will travel. 

Chess and Strategy:

Every organization needs strategic thinkers. They align the present with the future. And chess is the ULTIMATE strategy game. The strategic principles vary greatly between choosing an opening, playing against our opponent’s psychological weakness, or sacrificing material for compensation. And in the Information Age, balancing similar business interests while striking with decisive timing is crucial to any industry.   

Implementing a chess meet at work offers an entertaining method to build upon employees’ strategic thinking skills. Humans are creatures of habit, and building strategic habits requires one rule: The more we practice, the more skilled we become. Keeping that rule in mind, leaders can use chess in an informative manner to coach employees on assessing mistakes and designing strategic lines to best move forward.  

Pattern Recognition:

Computer technology has transformed the way organizations interpret and analyze data to the degree that operating without predictive analytics is risky. To mitigate risk, organizations are looking deeper at acquiring talent that can navigate data and recognize patterns in the system.

Chess offers an abstract orchestra of patterns. Players eagerly assess the board for the correct logical sequence as the pieces collide. It’s an enchanting orchestra with each component playing its part. It’s effortless to get lost in the symphony while you scan for the correct fork, skewer, or pin to defeat your opponent. A chess tournament might be the music needed to get the inspiration rolling again. 

Whether you are an experienced player or not, the game of chess has a magical way of bringing people together. I have implemented chess into past team-building activities and reaped the rewards. As a one-time break from the norm or a devoted monthly employee chess team, chess will engage your people and develop critical skills. If your training and development program needs a little artistic spice, I recommend doing the same. Your initiative might be the correct way to engage your employees and increase the skills you desire in them. It’s just a matter of making the first move.

Written by Ernest R. Twigg.

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Ernest R. Twigg
Ernest R. Twigg is an award-winning senior executive advisor, author, and speaker at 1st Battalion, 11th Marines. He leads 850 employees and has consulted c-suites across industries to unleash the leadership potential in their employees. Ernest's insight is sought after and is codified in his book "A Leader Provides" and various magazine articles that transcribes military leadership into private-sector gains. Ernest lives in California, where he spends his days playing chess and studying human performance, neuroscience, and leadership. Ernest R. Twigg is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.