Even if you’re a virgin as far as a real escape room is concerned, the chance that you’ve never heard of the concept is quite low.
Have you never heard of the ‘90’s game show Crystal Maze, created by our fair cousins across the pond?
Have you never heard of the 2007 thriller Fermat’s Room?
Have you never heard of the Cube or Saw film franchises?
Granted, the last two are particularly gruesome, but they still are based on the escape room concept.
And that’s just a start. I could go on.
Alright, so maybe I’ve come across the escape room concept before. That doesn’t explain how it’s useful to adults.
At first sight, it may indeed seem an escape room is a child’s game.
Rather than just throw facts and technical jargon at you, I’m going to go through the motions of a typical escape room event and try to bring out the benefits it can offer.
So your group (typically people don’t book for themselves alone) enters the room. You’re locked in; the clock starts ticking. What’s the first thing you do?
Think about it. There are more than one of you; there’s a time constraint within which you need to accomplish your task.
You need to avoid duplicating effort. That is, each task/puzzle/whatever needs solving must be tackled by one person only.
You need the best person for the task.
If Doug’s good with numbers and Lynn’s good with shapes, Doug should get the mathematical puzzle and Lynn should get shape puzzle.
If Doug can’t seem to do it quickly enough, he needs someone to help him. Once again, you need someone who’s good with numbers.
From this you immediately gather two skills being honed.
You need someone guiding the team.
That someone (let’s call him L; L for ‘Leader’) may not have any conventional skill like being good with numbers, shapes or dates (historical quiz).
L’s skill is knowing who in the team is good at what and allocating tasks accordingly.
If someone (say Doug) needs help with their task, L knows which team member Doug is comfortable with. If Doug is intimidated by his partner, he won’t be able to perform at his best.
If there’s a dispute as to whether a particular clue is a red herring (false) the leader’s decision is final.
This part – accepting a decision – is extremely crucial because of two scenarios it may lead to.
One, in case the decision-taker is not accepted as the leader, there will be immediate resistance to the decision among the team that may prove fatal immediately.
Two, in case something goes wrong, the team must learn to move on.
This depends on the acceptability of the decision-taker. If the team feels resentful, it will undermine the team dynamic in the long run.
An escape room provides a good simulation where a leader can be selected and accepted.
This strengthens the team dynamic for real-life situations.
2. Intra-team negotiations
As I just mentioned, teams must learn to move on from failures.
This depends partly on the team leader’s stature; it also depends on team negotiations.
For example this issue of whether it really is Doug who’s good with numbers, it’s best decided not by the team leader’s fiat but by intra-team negotiations.
If the entire team has decided Doug is indeed the best with numbers, they collectively own the decision to let Doug have math riddles.
Provided they’re reasonable people (you shouldn’t have unreasonable guys on your team) they won’t resent a decision they made on their own.
OK, so you’ve selected a leader, the initial tasks have been allocated, the respective team members are hard at work.
While Doug is certainly good at what he does, a little bit of encouragement never hurt anybody.
So if there’s anybody just standing by because their particular skill isn’t in demand yet, they can encourage Doug.
Is it that big a deal? Just saying ‘that’s it, Doug!’ should do, right?
Some people respond best to positive encouragement – ‘You’re doing just fine, Doug!’ or ‘Emily will be super impressed, Doug.’
Others respond best to negative encouragement – ‘Clock’s ticking, Doug!’
Knowing the right kind of encouragement can work wonders in crunch situations.
Does it stop there?
Remember the resentment I just mentioned when Doug can’t perform as expected?
That can translate into ridicule and anger against Doug. This will hamper team performance.
So, the team as a whole needs to maintain composure and not go against a member or members who fail to perform as expected. Unless they do this they won’t be able to escape in the least possible time.
What other skills can an escape room inculcate as you slowly proceed through the room?
Well, depending on the skill of the designer,
3. An escape room can inspire out of the box thinking
Under normal circumstances, for example when you’re conducting your trading (if you work at an investment bank) or attending to critical patients (if you’re in a paramedic team), you’ll tend to think in a single, analytical way.
Exposed to the quirky nature of an escape room, you’ll try to strategize in other ways. Some of these general strategies may prove useful at work.
4. Building camaraderie
While you’re going through the room, building a workable team dynamic, camaraderie will start building naturally.
It’s here that the informal nature of the escape room is so critical.
In actual work situations, the stress may be too much to build camaraderie. Here, without the stress of your actual job, you have the space to build proper team spirit.
I could go on and on identifying the skills and capacities an escape room helps build like effective communication, information sharing and so on; but I think you get the basic idea.