6 Business Lessons Learned From an Escape Room

Mr. Bartender and I recently went on a vacation just before the holidays. It was wonderful and relaxing…but that’s not the purpose of today’s post. One of the activities we participated in was an escape room.

Escape rooms are a physical adventure game where players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues to complete the secret plot in the room. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, so I signed us up. What a mistake! The activity was a complete mess. But during this cluster, I did step back and learn a few things about teamwork and problem-solving.

First of all, let me explain how this escape room was organized. There were about 6-7 teams of 10-12 people each. In this activity, we were competing against each team to solve the puzzle and exit the escape room first. While this set-up doesn’t always happen in escape rooms, it is something we see in organizations. Having multiple teams in a company is common. Having a dozen people on a team is not unusual. And sadly, sometimes those teams operate at cross-purposes or compete for budget dollars. Here were my takeaways.

  1. Everyone needs to understand the goal. And be motivated to achieve it. I understand that this just is a game. But even in games, there’s a goal you’re trying to achieve. It was evident that some groups didn’t know what an escape room was, how it worked, and what they received for participating. Even if it’s simply bragging rights.
  1. The group must have a leader. It might sound really fantastic to say that the group doesn’t need a leader, but I’d call bravo sierra on that one. Teams need someone to lead. Even if it’s to make sure that everyone has information or gets a voice. Which leads me to the next lesson…
  1. Every team member must receive the same communication. As soon as we were able to start, everyone in our group grabbed a puzzle and dispersed. The leader didn’t stop them. So, each person was doing their own thing. Team members weren’t able to help each other because they didn’t have the same information.
  1. Being organized can be a team asset. When it comes to problem-solving, being organized can be a tremendous advantage. I’ve already mentioned that our clues were scattered all over. Not having a sense of order put us behind the other groups because we couldn’t see how the puzzle clues fit together.
  1. Teams need problem-solving capabilities. Not only to solve problems, but to identify red herrings. One of the clever aspects to this escape room was the placement of a false clue (aka red herring). It’s important for teams to realize that they will collect lots of information but not necessarily need all of it to solve the problem.
  1. All group activities should receive a debrief. Even if it’s a short one. Another good component to this escape room was a debrief. You guys know I’m a fan of debriefs and there’s research to show it improves performance by up to 20 percent.

While we didn’t win the challenge, nor did we even come close, I was reminded that there’s more to teamwork than simply putting a bunch of people together. Teams need leadership, training, and a common goal.

I’d also add that this experience hasn’t soured me on the escape room concept. Hopefully, I can do another one in the near future. Maybe in Chicago at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference?

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby before Cirque du Soleil’s spectacular Kurios in Miami, FL