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Team-Building: We Tried An Escape Room
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Team-Building: We Tried An Escape Room - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: We Tried An Escape Room

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: We Tried An Escape Room

Three years ago, we explored the popular use of “escape rooms” as team-building activities, wondering if “the practice of collaborating under the pressure of an imagined scenario ... translates into real-life, positive, collaborative interactions at work.” Since then, escape rooms’ popularity seems to have continued its upward trend, with more than 2300 locations in the United States, up from 700 when we first examined them.

Normally, escape rooms are evening activities for young adults, but their popularity is not limited to the twenty-something crowd, and some escape rooms continue to market themselves as team-building opportunities for the business crowd, with daytime hours and even post-escape debriefing by counselors.

It’s taken this long for us to give an escape room a try, and our takeaway is surprisingly positive. A room in Honolulu had relocated to one of Waikiki’s posher hotels. Its all-new rooms were assembled under consultation by designers who’d worked on rides at Disneyland. When we were offered a few tickets, we took some coworkers and our open minds.

We signed up for a room the attendants described as “very challenging” and “unlike the other rooms.” The room was designed for 10 participants, so our small party was joined by college students we were unacquainted with.

At first it became clear that problem-solving with people you already worked with was a big advantage. Not only was there a level of comfort and familiarity, but social niceties were unnecessary in the heat of frantic problem-solving. At one point, a woman in our party dragged a figure across a map according to directions someone else read aloud. When she made a wrong turn, someone else in our party put his hand on her wrist and guided it back to correct her, an interaction that wouldn’t have happened if these participants already didn’t know each other. Other times, requests were made comfortably at a level of familiarity that, while polite, was direct and unconcerned about coming across undiplomatically.

Then something unexpected happened. As we progressed through the puzzles, despite (some of) our aversions to collaboration, we found ourselves arriving at solutions only through conversation, not only with our coworkers but with everyone. Broadly different experiences and personalities led to serious, impressive problem-solving.

Time expired before we could complete our task, and we had to take the group photo of shame, but the entire group, our coworkers and our newly acquainted temporary teammates, lingered as we recounted our brief adventure. Then we went next door together for gelato.

We still don’t have an answer to our original question. It’s difficult to tell whether the escape room activity led to better teamwork when we got back to the office. Camaraderie was certainly strengthened, and many of us were reminded that in solving difficult challenges, diversity is a real asset. However, we agreed that a better understanding of different problem-solving styles and the creation of new memories seemed completely worth a few hours away from the office.

We’ll say it again: true bonding happens when a group of people is doing real, meaningful work together. A few hours off-site in a dark room will never accomplish what real work can accomplish, but as a supplement to that good, hard work, it can be pretty valuable. We’d recommend an escape room as a solid team-building activity.


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