Last year I designed and played pop-up Escape Rooms with teams from different companies, ranging from telecom providers at KPN to coffee blenders at Douwe Egberts, from managers at Le Pain Quotidien to those at Mazda Europe and Schiphol Airport, and – mostly – for GM’s from Hotel collections like Accor, Apollo, and Carlton.
Every time I am amazed by what happens. Escape Rooms are the most impactful learning interventions I have ever used. I love to design them and I love to use them with teams from any company. Here’s why.
What is an Escape Room?
An Escape Room is a physical adventure game that locks a group of (3 to max 8) people into a room. By looking for codes and clues, solving puzzles and riddles, and especially by combining information, players have to leave the room within 60 minutes.
The first Escape Rooms opened about 10 years ago and from 2011 Escape Rooms rapidly started popping up in Japan and Singapore, soon followed by the US and Europe. Nowadays, there are thousands of Escape Rooms around the globe. Escape rooms are highly popular as indoor entertainment for small size groups. And not just because they’re ‘fun’.
At Performance Solutions, I developed the Reverse Escape Room – a pop-up Escape Room about Reverse Thinking – and at the moment I am designing one Escape room after another for our clients. I’m going to tell you why.
Why an escape room?
People learn by doing
This makes an escape room an ideal vehicle for gamification (using ingredients from games to trigger behavior). In an escape room, you are intensively playing for an hour; searching, puzzling, analyzing and deducing. But also: collaborating, convincing, leading and following and taking initiative. And you may add dynamics like communication, trust, flexibility, responsibility. Oh, and herd behavior, competition, stress and time pressure.
The beautiful thing is; when people are intensively engaged in an activity (flow), they’re not thinking about that. They are not concerned with how they should behave; they fall back on their natural behavior and patterns. If you register what happens in an Escape Room during one hour of playing, you will have a wealth of information about those players. Somehow, Plato already knew that 2400 years ago.
The power of the Escape Room is not just in the 60 minutes of intense play. It’s the part right after, that matters. The part where we look back and say: ‘What just happened ?!’
Depending on the time, the group and the development goal (or learning goal), we can look back at the Escape Room – at both individual and team level – through different lenses.
- Content (in the case of the Reverse Escape Room: Reverse Thinking
- Thinking different
- Play versus work
- Team / organizational culture
- Team themes (cooperation, trust, communication)
- Skills (problem solving ability, analysis, deduction, out-of-the-box thinking, working under time pressure)
- Link with behavioral styles (eg: emergenetics, insights, MBTI)
- Link with leadership styles
- Link with elements from the organization’s blueprint
Experiences in the Escape Room are the frame of reference; We can assume that the behavior we have seen there is reasonably representative of how you operate ‘in real life’. (Or in ‘real work’, for that matter).
This can be at individual level (someone sometimes seems to be very good at joining ideas from others), at team level (someone often comes with good ideas but is ignored by the team) or at the level of company culture (at the beginning of The Escape Room takes everyone grabs a chair and they start a lengthy meeting to discuss the approach of the Escape Room)
To give you an idea; here are some quotes I always come across when observing an Escape Room:
A: ‘Hey guys I found this Wifi Router… Do you think…’
B: ‘…No, that probably belongs here’
C: ‘…No, I already looked. There is no code on it’
A: ‘This has to be the right code. It can’t be anything else…’
A: [After 30 minutes]. ‘This is impossible. We are never going to make it in time’
A ‘Hey, how are you doing on that word puzzle? After all, you are the puzzle girl here’
Using fresh and specific (and yes, sometimes a bit painful) examples from the Escape Room, makes behavior, patterns and company culture much easier to address. It can be a great starting point for change.
Even more if you know where you want to be.
Michiel van Eunen, June 2017