Escape rooms offer insight into team culture
As golden grains of sand slide silently through an hourglass, six colleagues from SAIT's Reg Erhardt Library frantically decode clues in a darkened room, racing to solve one last puzzle before their time runs out. The reward? Their very survival, for if they fail the tests in The Chamber of the Mysterati, they will all be injected with a lethal microbe and face certain death...
But with a nail-biting 45 seconds remaining, they crack the final conundrum and break out of the Chamber unscathed. They've just completed an "escape room" game, where players search for clues and solve puzzles in themed environments and in a set period of time. But there is more going on here at Escape Capers YYC than fun and games. This shared experience can also function as a microcosm of teamwork.
"Two people working on a problem are way more likely to solve it than one person, especially if the problem is complex," says Eric Boudreau (TSR '07), the owner of Escape Capers and our in-room host for the evening. "When one person says what they're thinking out loud, the other person will pick up on what the insight is and they will keep developing that thread."
Watching the group as they scurry about the wood-panelled room, turning objects over and trying to work out clues, it quickly becomes apparent who focuses on results and who builds relationships, who is detail-oriented and who is a doer. Leaders typically "rise to the occasion," says Lorraine Wiercinski, a Human Resources instructor at SAIT's School of Business, but roles can change when pressure is added to the mix.
"Because the escape-room experience is time bound, for it to be successful the team needs to be in a performing place. New teams struggle a lot because they have not gone through the phases of a team," she says, referring to the five phases of forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning (see sidebar).
Boudreau says corporate Calgary has clued into the teamwork insights provided by this unique experience. Recently an oil company in the midst of a four-stage hiring process sent a group of prospective employees to work through a room at Escape Capers.
"It's unbelievable how helpful it was," Boudreau says. "The company could observe who was a team player, who was a loner — even who was looking out for safety issues. It was so clear which people, when faced with a problem, shut down and tried to work it out themselves and who would really collaborate to come up with a solution."
Special thanks to LINK's escape room team: Audrey Farch (LIT '05), Jennifer Peters (LIT '97), Janis Rapchuk (LIT '95), Chris Savage (LIT '11) and Library Information Technology program students Breanna Burwash and Michelle Eskrick.
Written by Ruth Myles | Photos by Leah Hennel (JA '98) | Video by Ashley Naud (JA '10)