By: Carol Wehrheim

Perhaps you have seen an Escape Room in your community and wondered what it is. These rooms have become popular for team building. When I heard Angie Olsen, a member of Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, tell about taking her team from work there, I decided to interview her.

Angie: I took my finance team and we went with a colleague who took his internal audit team. We needed more than my team of three. We went for team-building. I believe that people work better together when they know each other a little better.
We had only one hour to solve the clues to get out of the room. There is no way to get out without working together. We had to sign releases before we began. We practiced with the type of locks we could encounter.

Carol: Describe your experience.

Angie: Each room has a theme and you are told a story to go with the room. Then your hour starts and you are locked into the room. There is a TV monitor in the room and if you are too stuck, you will be given a clue or you can ask for a hint. A coding tells you that some things cannot be moved, but everything else can be moved, touched, or reversed. There are about eight puzzles to solve in a room. I expected to get out when we solved the puzzles in that room. But I opened the door and there was another room with more puzzles to solve! In order to get out the team would have to solve a puzzle every couple of minutes. We were close to having the pieces of the last two puzzles in the second room, but we didn’t make it.

Carol: What did you learn about your team from this experience?

Angie: Now we are all finance people so we are a subset of how people think. But it was amazing to see the variation in approach even in this group of financial types. We worked on a shared goal, which was good. Some people kept at it, while some sort of gave up after a while.

Carol: Did you talk about it afterwards?

Angie: Some, but it was really about having fun together. We financial types don’t do a lot of analyzing of what happens.

Carol: You said you went to another Escape Room. How was that?

Angie: Yes, this time it was all manager types. I was the only one who had done an Escape Room before. It helps to have done it before. You could probably do the same room again it would be different because you don’t really know what other team members were doing.

We split up into two groups and went to two different rooms. My group was in the Sweet Room. The second room had way more puzzles than the first room and we spent too much time in the first room. We got a lot of hints from the TV. We were better in the second room but we just didn’t have enough time. The communication among members started sooner in the second room. Most of us like games and are pretty competitive. It seemed that the higher in an organization you go, the more competitive you are. All of us were determined to get out, and we still couldn’t do it. Neither team got out.

We went to dinner after this one and there was a lot of conversation about the two teams and how they did. They tell you the percentages for getting out and it varies from room to room. My recollection is that less than 25% of the teams get out.

Carol: Having done two different Escape Rooms, what is your takeaway?

Angie: They are really fun. We would like for our family to do one with my parents sometime. It is a good way for a team to have fun together, get to know one another, and see those you work with in a different light. It is not a way to repair a team that is not functioning well.

Carol: Thank you, Angie.

Angie described some of the clues they had to solve but I didn’t include those details in case you go to an Escape Room. An Escape Room is an adventure game where players are locked in a room and have to solve a series of puzzles to get out in a set time. Each room has a theme, which can be anything from a dungeon to a chocolate factory (in Hershey). The Obama family visited an Escape Room in Honolulu last December and successfully completed the puzzles with 12 seconds remaining. Some Escape Rooms require a minimum number of players and most have a maximum. The cost ranges from $20 to $30 per person. Check one out in your area.

Carol Wehrheim is a volunteer at Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, and a member of the ADVOCATE Ministry Team.