Kimberly wasn’t so sure she wanted to participate in the so-called Collaborate Problem Solving Activity that was on the agenda at the conference she was attending. “I hear they lock you in a room with other people and the group has to solve some kind of puzzle to get out.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” someone said. “It’s a lot of fun. I did one of those things in Dallas last year. The time goes by really fast. Besides, there is an escape door if you feel you have to leave. We’ll have to find clues to escape.” She held up both hands and make the quotation marks sign with her fingers when she said the escape word.
Escape Room is a team building/leadership activity that is sweeping the nation. It’s a race against the clock to find clues that will lead to the way to escape from the room. All kinds of groups, from corporate teams to students to family members, are taking the challenge. And if reviews on social media are any indication participants are enjoying the experience.
“This is not a scare room or freak show. It is an exciting game of strategy, critical thinking and fun,” according to one online reviewer.
It just so happens that I was at the conference mentioned above and was asked to serve as the moderator of three rounds of Escape Room games. Each round involved two separate groups being locked in two separate rooms, one of which was themed as The Titanic and the other The Forbidden Tomb. My job was to debrief the participants and asked what they had learned or observed from a team building standpoint. It was a fascinating exercise.
In this case, there were eight people in each group. I’ll call them Group A and Group B. I had the pleasure of sitting inside the control room with the operators and watching both escape rooms via several monitors in each room. It was all I could do not to try to assist the participants in some way.
From a leadership and team building standpoint, I observed two methods of communicating and strategizing that were especially revealing. It involved a clue in the Titanic Room that could be found when the participants discovered an envelope containing a letter from the captain of the ship. The participant in the first group who found the letter read it to himself very carefully. He may have even read it twice. I would even go so far as to say that he studied the letter. The other members of his group anxiously watched as he read the letter. Finally, he told his fellow group members what the letter said. They began discussing the implications of the letter and whether it led to another clue. Of course it did, so they immediately began searching. Ultimately, they found the sought-after clue.
The Group B participant who found the same letter took a different approach. Upon finding the letter he announced that fact to his group and told them to “Listen up.” He then opened the envelope and read the letter aloud. The group members immediately began discussing what they had heard. Someone made a suggestion about what the letter/clue meant. The hunt was on for the next clue. They found it in no time.
It turned out that Group A did not make it out of the room in the allotted time. To put it another way, they sunk. Group B made it out with time to spare.
The lesson learned was that when time is critical it is best that everyone involved receive the same information at the same time. When time is not of the essence then it is certainly appropriate for the leader to digest the information first and then tell his team about new information.
Escape Rooms are growing in number, and not just because of their popularity. They also provide good income for the operators/franchisees. According to a July 21, 2015 MarketWatch.com article by Sally entitled “The unbelievably lucrative business of escape rooms,” the first investor in an escape room facility recovered his $7,000 investment in only a month. By mid-2015 the number of permanent rooms world-wide has gone from zero at the outset of 2010.
A search online for Escape Rooms in Mississippi revealed locations in Tupelo, Starkville, Jackson, Hattiesburg and D’Iberville. Prices per person ranged from $20 – $25 for a 45-60 minute experience. Themes vary. For example, right now in Tupelo there is one room titled “The Office Of Secret Agent 22”, which invites players to, “Step back to 1982 and join the CIA to help find missing Agent 22.” It’s a 60-minute game. There is also a 30 minute version called “The Mine,” where players “Find the Copperpot treasure and escape before their old family mine is demolished.”
For corporate teambuilding or family fun check out an Escape Room near you.
» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.