Updated: Jul 22
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I wrote another post about how designers can create rooms that improve the teamwork aspect of a room. This post is about how teamwork can help a team succeed in a room.
There's a reason escape rooms can connect with growing businesses in a way other forms of entertainment cannot. In addition to revealing problem solving skills, communication ability, and productivity under pressure, escape rooms can capitalize on the teamwork aspect in a very valuable way. The best escape rooms aren’t designed to test your intelligence, but to test your ability to cooperate, observe, listen, and communicate.
Talk a lot. When you find a clue, puzzle piece, lock, or anything else that looks important, make sure (almost obnoxiously) that everyone in the room knows what you found, otherwise you run the risk of having two people collecting the same kind of puzzle piece or having one person carrying around a key to a lock that someone else is carrying around. The best communicators speak confidently from their knowledge and seek information when that knowledge is lacking. They don’t speak over people, and they make sure that everyone is heard when they have something to say. Talk more than you normally do. If you have an idea, tell the group about it even if you think it might sound like a dumb idea.
Coworkers and Strangers
Because businesses often use escape rooms for team building excercise, it’s worth noting that teams of coworkers (or strangers for that matter) are often tempted to be too polite or shy in their communication in a rooms. If they wants to succeed in a difficult escape room, teams will have to leave stuffy boardroom and social protocols at the door and take initiative to quickly get information to the people who need it. When this happens, true leaders will be recognized and followed. Managers are often followed because they have a title, but if a team cares about winning, titles and age will do almost nothing for them in an escape room. In the workplace, barriers between management and employees often cause individuals to shy away from corporate goals to focus on personal advancement, but when a team has a clear goal in a fun, non-threatening environment, employees and strangers often feel freedom to speak confidently.
My brother and I have the ability to work completely independently but know when we should combine our efforts. Billy is much better at text and abstract puzzles, and I'm pretty good at logic and combination puzzles. We usually go with the divide and conquer method. After we inventory the room, Billy takes the word puzzles, physical challenges, and maps. I take the number puzzlers, charts/diagrams, and connection puzzles. With that said, we are quick to ask each other for help.
If you've been working on a puzzle for a few minutes without progressing, ask a teammate to look at it with you. That usually happens when one of us says, "when you get a chance, look at this with me." This is why relationships are so important in escape room. The best teams have the best relationships. Escape rooms develop relationships, and as those relationships develop, teams get better.
Listening is a very underdeveloped skill in our world today. It seems like everyone wants to be a leader and share their opinions, but so few people see the value of followership and listening. In an escape room, listening is one of the most valuable skills (especially in online escape rooms). Because it's important to shout information as you find it, a team is greatly hindered by teammates who shout information that has already been shouted. The only way to avoid this is to listen. Listening will ensure that you know the information and that you do not repeat the information.
Divide and Conquer
Working together does not mean huddling up. Huddling up is a great first step to failure. If you are not actively working on a puzzle, search for a puzzle that no one else is working on, and work on it. This is especially true in searching. In fact, in the beginning of a room, it's good to separate and have multiple people search the same area at different times because a teammate will often find what others missed.
We'll skip the conversation about whether or not it's a good idea to try to solo a room. If you're thinking about soloing a room, you're probably experienced enough that you are past the stage of searching for escape room tips. Most rooms are possible with only two people, but those two people need to have enough experience to know how to recognize puzzle structures, and they need to know each other well enough to know how to divide and conquer. Two pairs of eyes on a puzzle eliminates errors and provides multiple points of view. For that reason, playing most escape rooms with four people or approximately half of the room's maximum capacity is ideal. Two pairs of two players decreases the potential for mistakes and miscommunication. Owners will usually recommend a group of five or more for a room, but often that is simply to increase the number of people in a room in order to increase their profit margin. I’m not criticizing that strategy because I want to see owners succeed, but that is my experience. When you have five or more players, it becomes difficult to know who is working on which puzzle, and you will run into physical space issues. As a result, puzzles get missed, items get misplaced, and information doesn’t get passed on to the right person.
Miscommunication, detail oversight, and misplaced items/information can be avoided when there is a clear leader in the room. If a group is larger than three, you need a group leader. Teams are often tempted to huddle up and work together on a puzzle when they could divide and conquer. A leader can make sure that everyone is moving forward, no puzzles are being neglected, and hints are used promptly when the group stagnates. They are usually aware of what everyone in the room is working on, and they know what puzzles need more attention. With that said, a leader must not attempt to be an alpha. An alpha is a players who attempts to effectively do a room alone in the presence of other people. They usually order the other players around while making themselves a bottleneck. Nonlinear rooms force teams to spread out. When the team recognizes the alpha is not capable of solving every puzzle alone, the team will begin to spread out and ignore the alpha.
I’ve done multiple escape rooms with my staff, and although you can’t build a team in one escape room, escape rooms can definitely help. Escapes rooms are great at revealings a teams ability to communication, delegate tasks, and solve problems together. Every puzzle, from simple puzzles such as finding hidden items to difficult puzzles such as deciphering a map coordinates puzzle, is aided by teamwork. Teams that recognize each member's unique experiences, skills, knowledge base and physical abilities can combine their skills to beat time goals and develop the team. Escape rooms reward teamwork, and rewarded behaviors get repeated. When you finish a room, whether you complete the room or not, spend some time debriefing. You probably won't know how everyone in the room opened every lock and solved every puzzle. While the room is still fresh on everyone's minds, spend time discussing each puzzle and lock. It will make you better at solving puzzles in the future. You'll probably have to have this conversation over drinks or a meal because you won't be able to discuss room secrets at the escape room location.
I'm often amazed by how well kids and teens do in escape rooms. I think that's largely because they think differently than adults. Adults often overthink things, and young people can recognize simple connections. Adults are usually tempted to ignore the ideas and discoveries of young people, but that is a mistake. Everyone in the room should be heard.