Can an Escape Room Adventure Benefit Your Small Business?

Watching your team finally break out could lead to unexpected breakthroughs.
Forcing employees to work together throughout an escape the room challenge can help promote teamwork in the workplace as well. (Photo: Katryniensis)

Business owners and employees scrambling through obstacle courses in the woods, playing “Survivor” type games, going on scavenger hunts, breaking out of escape rooms — it’s all in the name of team building. These activities are meant to foster trust, improve communication, boost morale and above all, help everyone work together better.

Escape rooms are particularly suitable for small business team building as they’re designed for groups of up to 12 people and they’re not physically demanding, so all ages can play. Here’s how it works: A team is locked in a room and works together to find clues and solve puzzles to escape.

As the boss, “You get to analyze personality types and see who takes a leadership role, who’s collaborative, see the group dynamics,” said Ginger Flesher-Sonnier, whose seven Escape Room Live rooms in two Washington, D.C.-area locations cater to a business clientele.

“It’s interesting to see how the group interacts with each other and the roles that people establish within a group. You see people’s problem solving skills, how creative they are and how much they can think outside the box.“

Current room themes include Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe-based mysteries, but Flesher-Sonnier plans to open third venue in Georgetown and expand to other cities and resort locations. She hired a haunted house builder to create new Hollywood-style rooms based on such movies as “Ghostbusters,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “The Mummy,” “Friday the 13th”” and “Titanic,” under partnerships with Paramount and Sony studios.

Flesher-Sonnier, who recently landed an investment deal on CNBC’s “West Texas Investors Club,” charges $395 to book a single-room event. Available catering allows clients to turn the outing into a celebration.

Kayden Ressel operates the Basement Escape Room in Los Angeles, where a 10-person booking costs $350 to $380. An actor plays a role in the room’s story but also serves as an observer. “He or she is watching for the stronger players and key skill sets — communication, listening, taking a back seat when they need to. After the game, the actor gives them a 15-minute analysis of how they did,” says Ressel, who is opening a second location in Las Vegas.

Building trust and communication, identifying strengths

Ressel says his business clients are surprised how effective the experience is in building trust and communication, and that they discovered employees’ hidden strengths and weaknesses.

“The clients have said they learned a lot about their people — what they’re good at and not good at,” he says. “You know, when people work together it raises the collective intelligence of the group, and that’s something supervisors are able to take away.”

Escape rooms can also help teams bond and boost morale. Warren Press of Feet First Entertainment observed, “Over the course of that hour there are numerous small successes, and as they get them the energy builds in the room. When they unlock that last lock, they’re high-fiving each other and hugging,” he says. “The sense of accomplishment is tremendous.”

Press, who stages several types of team building events in Seattle, Dallas and multiple locations in California, also offers games based on TV’s “The Amazing Race” and “Survivor” and a creative challenge that involves making a short movie or commercial. “There are a lot of jobs and tasks involved, and you have to work together as a team.”

He said his clients report that they “achieved their goal of raising morale, that people who used to walk by each other are now talking because they share this experience.”

Sam Roberts, Assistant Director of the Interactive Media & Games Division at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, has observed team building events and thinks they can be beneficial for a small business.

“There is a lot of value in this idea of team building and communication, how you work together and how you work together well, what roles you would take in a crisis situation. A good escape room creates moments of stress and crisis, in a safe way that lets you learn from failure without anything terrible happening. That’s very valuable.” He added, “Sometimes a team breaks down and can’t communicate, and at the end they discuss what they could have done better, and that discussion is very helpful.”

Most major cities have escape rooms now. There are new do-it-yourself kits that recreate the experience. Roberts has play-tested some of them and cites Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experience as “very cost effective.” After a successful Kickstarter campaign, it’s available for pre-order for $60.

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