What an escape room taught me about the value of collaboration, and some of the unexpected benefits of working within a diverse team.
The door slams shut; the clock is ticking. We have 60 minutes to work as a team and find our way out of the locked door — or face the consequences.
Okay, so the consequences of failing to beat an escape room are nothing more than wounded pride. But when it comes to important work projects, or the public involvement process, the stakes are undeniably much higher. Failure simply isn’t an option. Which is why collaboration is more than just a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity.
And while the benefits of collaboration to the project itself may be obvious, there are some wider advantages you may not have realized…
What my escape room experience taught me about teamwork.
Four of us signed up for an escape room experience, during which we’d be locked in a room and tasked with solving a series of puzzles and deciphering the clues that would unlock the door. My husband and I are both college-educated; he’s more of a technical person, a real puzzle solver (and was supremely confident about his ability to complete the challenge!), I’m more of a relational type, creative and somewhat rebellious. The two friends with us were equally unique in personality and abilities. None of us had ever done an escape room before.
When we got there, we discovered that another group had booked the same room for the same time slot, so we were to be paired up with four people — two men and two women — we’d never met. One turned out to be incredibly shy, refusing to say much at all, and another was clearly in an “altered state” that evening. Their redeeming features were that they, at least, had previous escape room experience. And here we were, about to be locked in a room with them, forced to work together for a common goal.
Talk about awkward!
Altered states aside, it really did remind me of the awkwardness that often goes hand-in-hand with collaborative group projects. You have a group of people, some with conflicting personalities, and some whose natural instinct will be to shy away from others. Sometimes multiple people will try to step up and take the leadership role, and take offense when their approach is challenged. Others will hang back waiting for the right opportunity to assert themselves. Some will be complete novices; others will have more experience.
But if my escape room experience taught me nothing else, it proved that when it comes to complex projects, with a tight deadline, the benefits of collaboration outweigh any potential awkwardness or bruised egos.
The real value in collaboration.
We know that collaboration works — if it didn’t I might still be locked in that escape room!
We know that when multiple people with varied skill sets work together, projects are likely to be completed more efficiently, more quickly, and to a higher standard than solo projects. But after my escape room experience, I’d argue that the real benefits of collaboration extend way beyond the scope of any one project. It’s the participants themselves that gain the true value from collaboration.
Learning to appreciate diversity.
As we worked our way through the various escape room puzzles, it became clear that different strengths and personalities were at play. Some clues required an eye for visual acuity and some needed a dose of courage to push a button or search an area that seemed “off limits”. Some required strong organizational skills, others called for a little more creativity. A strong vocabulary and knowledge of random trivia came in handy. And as we worked through each step, allowing each person to work to their key strengths and personality traits, we all seemed to grow more tolerant, more respectful, and more appreciative of the skills and experiences that each person brought to the team.
Of course, before entering the escape room, some of us were less aware of our key strengths and there were some pleasant surprises along the way as we uncovered skills we didn’t know we had. And so it is with collaborative work experiences too, as you push yourself beyond your comfort zone, helping fill any gaps in the team, discovering your strengths, practicing skills you know you already enjoy, and learning about some areas for growth.
Developing communication skills.
If we were going to make it out of that locked room in time, we knew we couldn’t go it alone — we had to learn to listen to everyone’s opinions (even the people we initially weren’t too sure about!), and take their ideas and concerns on board. Listening for understanding takes a certain amount of focused attention that wasn’t easy to spare in our one hour challenge. But it became obvious as we approached the final few puzzles, that if we were going to make it out in time, everyone couldn’t try to talk and work on the same thing all at once. At several key points, we all had to all stop what we were doing, look directly at the person who was sharing their idea and fully listen and understand their approach before we proceeded. Learning how to both listen for understanding and effectively communicate your ideas is a valuable lesson that can taken away from a collaborative experience. And for us, it worked! We made it out with 12 minutes to spare!
Increasing learning opportunities.
Watching how others work, observing how they approach a task or a problem, and seeing how they think is a fascinating thing and I like to think that I’ve learned a few new skills from my escape room buddies. And working as part of a team to complete a project is an incredible opportunity for employees to do the same thing. By watching and learning from others, you learn how to push your own boundaries and grow your skill set.
Improving job satisfaction.
I think any one of us could have solved the room — if we’d been given an unlimited amount of time, of course. But together we were able to complete it satisfyingly quickly.
Not only that, by working together and listening to each other’s ideas we forced ourselves to think differently, to think bigger. We were able to see things that we wouldn’t have seen, by viewing the challenge through another person’s perspective. I felt more connected to the people I was with and enjoyed seeing them build their confidence and take ownership of the experience.
I know I left there feeling more confident too, having contributed in significant ways to solving the problem — and I suspect it’s a confidence that’ll outlive this one experience. It’s a confidence I’ll be able to transfer to other challenges, other situations and yes, other projects.
Now, can you imagine how your organization might benefit if every employee finished collaborative projects feeling so accomplished, so confident, and so connected to their teammates? What might it mean for future projects and the success of your organization?
So, if your team is struggling to work collaboratively, throwing them into an escape room together might not be a bad plan!
Audri Bomar is the Community Engagement Manager at PointNorth. She specializes in ensuring the details of a complex project are understood by stakeholders and our community is connected, engaged and heard.