Last week I took some of my team out to an Escape Room to try our luck and celebrate their hard work which led to CHSI Technologies winning the US Captive Award for insurance technology. And wow, did I pick up some great business lessons related to my people and strategy along the way.
In case you’re wondering, an escape room is a physical adventure game where a group of players are placed into lockdown and are required to solve a series of puzzles and clues to complete the objective within a given time limit to escape the room.
It’s fantastic fun, and I recommend that anybody try it.
Normally, a group of 4-5 people team up because there is more brainpower to solve the puzzles and find the clues.
There are multiple escape rooms with different themes, degrees of difficulty, and challenges attached to each room. Each escape room challenge provides 60 minutes to solve the puzzles and clues, thereby allowing your team to progress through a series of rooms until you finally escape the lockdown altogether.
So here are the cool lessons I observed about people and strategy as they apply to business:
- Teamwork is key. On each challenge, some individuals naturally stepped up to lead, while others found support roles. The self-organizing of our team happened swiftly and without much discussion. We quickly realized who was good at what, and we leveraged each other’s strengths. There were times where we’d switch roles quickly, which saved us time and frustration.
- Communicate often. We would enter new rooms as we progressed through the puzzles and we’d quickly talk about observations and thoughts (in effect, brainstorming). By talking things out quickly, it helped us focus and create ideas. We’d look for clues and logical patterns, instead of just randomly grabbing things and moving fast. We used the whiteboard made available in the first room to list clues and keep track of observed patterns.
- Ready, fire, aim. In a game like this, we knew speed was critical and failing fast would help us. So many times we touched and tried things, hoping it would spark an idea. At one point, I just grabbed a combination lock and started entering numbers being deciphered from the Morse Code. We finally got all the numbers in the right order and could unlock the box. Sometimes you just need to fire and then aim.
- Trade your ego for a common goal. What was interesting was that the time limit really helped. Because we wanted to complete it as fast as possible, we checked our ego at the door. We didn’t care who solved things, or who took the lead, we just wanted to make progress. None of us were “above” any tasks—we did whatever it took. When we couldn’t figure something out, we quickly asked a teammate for help.
- Divide and conquer. We knew to solve the murder mystery and beat the clock, we couldn’t duplicate work or watch each other. We each worked on our own tasks, but were in constant communication with updates, written on the whiteboard for all to see.
- Pressure is good. One of the biggest revelations was how helpful it was to havd a defined timeline. It helped us move with urgency, and it provided us with the willingness to take risks and abandon things that didn’t work. There were no sacred cows or sunk costs—it was move, try, fail, and adjust until you found what worked.
So, did we escape the peril and solve the rooms? You bet we did! But it took some teams (including mine) the full 60-minutes to do so. None of our teams beat the record times for the respective rooms, and we all needed a hint (because there are some puzzles so obvious that we tended to overlook the obvious and complicate things for ourselves), but we learned a lot about teamwork and had fun in the process.
So, if you’re looking for an outing for your leadership team that’s a sure bet for team-building and morale, give escape rooms a try. It was better than I thought.
Oh, and the last lesson I learned? Surround yourself with people smarter than you. The only reason we made it out in under 60-minutes is because I stacked my team with people who had complimenting skill sets. So, make sure the team you are building is filled with Eagles, Owls, Parrots, and Doves—and not Pigeons.