Using Escape Games to Strengthen Your Remote Team
If you're looking for a novel team-building activity that's effective and fun, an escape room could be the answer.
Played either online or face-to-face, escape rooms can boost skills in communication, project management, problem solving, and dealing with complex challenges. They are also commonly used to strengthen relationships within a team.
Although the scenario is fictitious, the skills you develop in an escape room can have real and lasting effects in the workplace.
In this article, we explore some of the different types of escape rooms and explain how to know if they're right for you and your team. We also outline the key steps to take before, during and after the activity, to ensure that you get the most out of any escape room you try.
What Is an Escape Room?
An escape room, sometimes known as an escape game or puzzle room, is a themed challenge event where players collaborate to find clues, complete tasks, and solve a variety of puzzles.
The aim is to achieve a specific, time-bound goal – usually to escape from somewhere. But no one is ever actually locked in, and the threats you face are always imaginary!
Escape rooms have a Game Master, who sets everything up, explains the rules, and provides any clues required. Common settings for escape rooms include castles, space stations, Victorian apartments, and Ancient Egyptian pyramids.
The classic scenario is to escape within the time limit – typically 45 minutes or an hour – by solving all the puzzles required to unlock the door and escape. But some escape rooms include additional targets, such as solving a crime, rescuing a hostage, finding treasure, or stopping an imaginary threat.
Escape rooms have become popular as social activities. They're often arranged by companies as celebrations or rewards. Many organizations also use them for team-building, and to develop particular skills and attributes within their teams.
Mind Tools Club members can download the free Mind Tools escape room kit to use with your team remotely or in person.
The kit contains everything you need to run an hour-long escape room activity. It's designed to give you a taste of this type of event, and to let you practice a range of team-building skills.
Are Escape Rooms Right for Your Team?
An escape room can be an engaging and exciting way for people in new teams to get to know each other. For established teams, they can be an opportunity to "let off steam" during an intense period of work, or to celebrate achievement when a project is complete.
Escape rooms can help to build key skills within your team, such as collaboration, communication, decision making, problem solving – and stamina! They can also be a good way for a team to rehearse its response to high-stakes situations and challenging times.
However, an escape room may not be the best idea if there is any significant conflict in your team – the pressurized atmosphere and close team working could make matters worse.
You should also consider the team members as individuals. Will they all enjoy and benefit from a deadline-based task where they have to think quickly under pressure and collaborate closely with other players? Could it make any of them feel embarrassed, excluded or anxious?
In addition, think about whether there any settings or storylines that wouldn't be appropriate for particular individuals, or for your organization as a whole. For example, a crime-themed game or horror-themed setting may not be suitable for some team members for a variety of personal reasons.
If you're thinking of running an escape room event, it's a good idea to check with your manager or HR department first.
Team building is not a quick fix. It's a continual process that requires ongoing strategies to maintain trust, motivation and focus.
Read our article, Team Building Exercises and Activities, to learn more about this.
Successful Escape Rooms: Before, During and After
If you've decided that an escape room is right for your team, here are some more tips on what to do at each stage of your escape room event.
Before the Escape Game
Make sure your attendees know why you've chosen this type of team-building activity. For example, is it purely a social event? Is it designed to develop key skills, or to test the team in some way?
You don't want your team to feel like it's a secret analysis of their abilities. And it's essential that no one feels pressured – or even tricked – into taking part.
Advertise your plans in enough time to get people interested and excited, and to handle any concerns. If you're creating the challenges yourself, you'll also need time to design and make everything, test it thoroughly, and set it up on the day.
Check that all the activities are safe (especially when people start rushing toward the end!) and that all the rules and instructions are clear. You might also decide to agree some standards of conduct during the game, to create a healthy balance between cooperation and competition!
Our article Getting the Most From Training Programs has more advice about preparing yourself and others for any type of learning event.
During the Escape Game
Escape rooms work best when everyone's fully engaged.
Make it clear that people can ask for help if they need it. If the team gets stuck on one particular challenge there's a risk that players will start to get frustrated, or miss out on other parts of the activity. Encourage them to consult the Game Master – or the clue sheet, if you're using a kit – when it's necessary to keep things moving.
Whether you take part yourself, or you play the role of the Game Master, try to spot anyone who's not participating, and look for an appropriate way to get them involved. Encourage the team to try out a range of different problem-solving tactics, but also to stay focused on their ultimate goal.
After the Escape Game
Whether or not the challenge is completed successfully, it's important to give people a chance to relax, chat and celebrate (or commiserate) afterward.
Encourage them to talk about the event while it's still fresh, and to focus on the positives – especially any insights they've gained about themselves or the team.
Later, create opportunities for team members to reflect on the activity in more depth. For example, they could use a meeting with their line manager to evaluate their performance in the escape room, discussing both their strengths and any areas for improvement.
Identify any training needs that might have emerged and use feedback from the event to inform your ongoing team-building program. (See our article on maximizing the impact of training for more on this).
That way you'll reap the benefits of your escape room long after you and your team have made it to freedom!
Things to Think About
Here are four important questions to consider when you're planning an escape room activity:
- Should we play it remotely or face-to-face?
Ideally, escape rooms are best played when everyone is in the same place. However, the added challenge of playing remotely can have a positive impact on the experience – it can force you to think laterally and consider ways you can overcome any issues resulting from the limits of technology.
If you are playing remotely, the games master may need to intervene more often. Make sure that you help to steer the team back on course if they get lost or if communication begins to breakdown.
- Will the benefits be worth the cost?
If you're doing an escape room away from your workplace, consider the costs of venue hire, transport, catering, and so on. The full costs include people's time and effort, as well as the hours spent off work.
A cost-benefit analysis can help you to focus on what's important and how best to achieve it. It can also make it easier to convince others about your plans.
- Where should you go?
For social events or team treats, host your activities away from work, if possible. Purpose-built premises offer the most challenging and immersive experience, using props, sets and special effects to intensify the game.
Another option is to hire a location of your choice – a conference venue, for example, or an art gallery out of hours – and run your own escape room there. This can make the event even more original and memorable.
If a trip out of the office is too expensive or time-consuming, you can set up a themed puzzle-solving session where you work. This may also make it easier to align the activities with some of your team's specific challenges.
- Is it better to create your own challenge, or use one that's ready-made?
Most escape room companies have their own premises. Some can install temporary escape rooms elsewhere, and many offer ready-made escape room kits that you can download and run yourself.
Although most of these services come at a cost, in return you'll get enough expertly written puzzles to keep everyone engaged and challenged.
Creating all the challenges in-house will reduce the cost and make it easier to personalize your event. However, it can also be complex and time-consuming. And you run the risk of leaving your team frustrated or disappointed if the activities aren't satisfactory.
- Which theme would work best?
The theme you choose for your escape room is important. It sets the tone for the event and enables you to target specific competencies and skills.
If your priority is for people to relax and enjoy themselves, a highly imaginative theme works well. You could choose an escape room set in a mythological kingdom, for example, or on an alien planet. As well as being fun, this can also encourage creative thinking.
Mystery themes (such as uncovering the murderer or foiling a jewel thief's plans) are good for working on problem-solving and decision-making skills. They often prioritize attention to detail, and they tend to have a more focused and serious feel.
Some escape rooms have a scientific or technical setting – a factory, say, or a science lab. Realistic environments like these can help teams to develop abilities such as strategic planning and delegation
And horror themes are a popular way to foster team-working skills under pressure. They're not right for every organization, but, used carefully, they encourage adaptability and quick thinking, while also testing people's resilience as the imagined threat is ramped up!
Escape rooms are themed puzzle-solving exercises, where players work together to "escape" from somewhere or something. They are often used for social events, to strengthen teams, or to develop key professional skills.
When you organize an escape room, weigh up the benefits of hosting the event either at your workplace or in an external venue. If you're creating your own escape room, you can either design the activities yourself or use ones that have been professionally made.
Choose a theme that matches the mood you want to create – and the skills you hope to build.
Be clear about your aims for the activity. Ensure that everyone is safe, and help them to feel involved and motivated throughout.
After the game, allow people time to relax and reflect on their experiences. And when they're back at work, encourage them to make the most of any lessons they learned about themselves and the team.
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