Escape Rooms Are the New Team Building Craze

For many employees, being locked in an enclosed space with their boss might sound like a nightmare. However, the latest craze in team building involve a place that requires you to help figure out puzzles in order to escape. 

Escape room games use problem solving and teamwork to battle against the clock and escape. The escape room concept started Japan as a real-life roleplaying version of the popular ‘Escape the Room’ video games, gaining popularity throughout Asia and arriving in the United States in 2012. There are now thousands of escape rooms around the world. Traditional escape rooms started as leisure and entertainment, but some escape rooms are moving into team building.

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Reason, founded by serial entrepreneur Mike Chen, takes this a step further. By refreshing and incorporating the latest emerging technologies, this San Francisco startup has transformed the escape room medium into an experiential platform that helps companies discover new technologies and spark innovative thinking. I took employees from leading companies such as Google, Apple, SAP, and Genentech to visit Reason and see what makes the space colorably successful in the innovation space.

Jump Starting Entrepreneurial Leadership

Over the last few years, large corporations have been trying to include elements of startup culture into their businesses through various initiatives. Many aim to inspire employees to have more of an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ towards internal projects and business units. Organizations like Moves the Needle, cofounded by The Lean Entrepreneur author Brant Cooper, offer corporate training packages to boost entrepreneurial mentalities in established corporations.

Other corporations have taken matters into their own hands. Adobe launched its Kickbox initiative offering employees funds and tools to build ideas, Google previously implemented  a “20%” policy –which allowed Googlers to spend 20 percent of their time on personal projects, and Ericsson offered employees Ideaboxes.

Regardless of which route companies take, managers need to learn to become ‘change agents’ by showing that critical thinking and problem solving is encouraged from everyone in a team, regardless of their position.

Author Glenn Llopis said “An effective leader recognizes the importance of embracing differences in people and knows how to connect the dots amongst those differences to get the best outcomes from the team…Leaders must challenge each team member to think more critically and see through a lens of continuous improvement.”

Reason’s space encourages strategic thinking, problem solving, and thinking ‘outside of the box’. By placing teams in an alien environment, forcing them to take risks, and challenging them to solve problems, Reason aims to empower managers to spot employees who are entrepreneurially minded.

In 2016, corporate training expenditure in the United States rose to more than $70 billion according to the 2016 training industry report. Corporate training is expensive, and sessions can cost ten of thousands of dollars a session. Chen claims that Reason has found a niche and “identified and placed itself in a sweet spot in the marketplace” by offering services that squarely help managers audit employees’ entrepreurialism.

Acquire and Adapt New Skills

Writer Jason Lange explained that when employees are positive about training experiences they are more likely to retain knowledge and translate that into real business results.

“This is where Reason is highly relevant and indispensable,” says Chen.

Nikola Chonkov, a software engineer from Palantir who made his way through Reason’s gauntlet of tech told me

“This is probably one of the best escape the room setups I have seen. Everything is designed to be immersive and intuitive, and while you get exposed to the latest and greatest in tech, you don’t need any previous experience with it to do the challenges,” she said.

This escape room combines digital technology with real-life physical props to encourage lateral thinking and challenging teams to solve problems in creative ways. By incorporating advanced technologies that require players to acquire new skills and adapt it to a real-life problem solving scenario, Reason anchors the teams until they think critically and experiment with the technology in front of them before they can advance.

This process parallels similar methodology used at many leading companies such as Google, where employees are encouraged to take ‘hands on’, Do-It-Yourself approaches to innovation. Google X innovation center cofounder Tom Chi and his team constructed the first model of the Google Glass from a coat hanger, a piece of plexiglass, a sheet protector, a little wire harness, and a netbook. By encouraging teams to use rapid experimentation and prototyping, ideas emerge at a rapid pace, projects can succeed and fail timely. 

Education experts state that this type of hands-on learning experience provide “deeper understanding” of complicated concepts and new technology. In addition, teachers have started to use ‘escape room’ scenarios to merge hands-on teaching with abstract problem solving tasks to engage students.

Boosting Teamwork and Collaboration

Like many escape rooms, Reason provides an opportunity for team members to bond with one another and improve communication. Players step out of their daily routines, and unsung leaders can take charge in a way they might not feel comfortable doing in an office setting.
The game is built around key aspects of collaboration embedded into the core game mechanics. Collaboration is the cornerstone of larger executive training, recruiting, or onboarding initiatives. Teams are forced to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and members learn to maximize their performance and operate more effectively.

To this end, “innovation is the lifeblood of modern companies,” Chen said. With the accelerating pace of new technological developments, the needs of the companies that Reason works with changes as well. Reason is now working on its next generation game by incorporating augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

“While our passion is future tech, human relationships are what drives us.” Chen says. “Did you know that humans once opposed mechanical refrigerators?,” he asked rhetorically as we parted ways.

Technology is consuming the world, and if escape rooms like Reason are successful in their mission to humanize our relationship with technology and each other, we might just be better prepared to welcome our frosty robot overlords in the near future.  

Read more about team building techniques at Tech.Co

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Written by:
Jordan French is founding CMO of BeeHex Inc. 3D printing, President of O'Dwyer-ranked Notability Partners and cofounder of "Airbnb Police" start up BNB Shield. Jordan French is a technology commentator, biomedical engineer, intellectual-property attorney and business strategist for film and music stars. French works with Billboard-charted artist and multi-platinum producer, B. Howard, who wrote and produced songs for Vanessa Hudgens, Ginuwine, Dru Hill, Akon, Ne-Yo, Jason Derulo, Chris Brown and Wyclef Jean. French is on the leadership team at FOWNDERS, the social-impact start-up accelerator based in Newark, NJ. He is the Marketing & PR director of Scorpion Computer Services, Inc. and consults for executive producer Walter O’Brien, the inspiration behind the hit CBS television drama, Scorpion. As founding CEO and COO Jordan French built Status Labs into a Fast-50 and Inc.-500-ranked marketing firm and represented the people of the United States as an enforcement attorney at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission where he tracked down energy-market manipulators and enforced electric grid reliability rules.
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