When the student becomes the "Master" - lessons from an escape room Gamesmaster
Updated: Jul 25
For those of you unfamiliar with "Escape Rooms", they are the innovative, interactive, live team experience where you are "locked" in a room and have to solve puzzles in order to escape. The live game was developed on the Continent and based on similar "room escape" games on computer. There are now hundreds in the UK - for an extensive list and reviews please visit www.exitgames.co.uk and www.thelogicescapesme.com.
So addicted did I become having played my first game in Oslo in 2015, I am now the proud co-owner of "A Great Escape" in Bletchley - with our first room, called "Enigma" (what else? ;) ) - now part of the Panic Room family in Harlow
Escape rooms are now being used as an unusual teambuilding activity, and we even offer a CPD accredited "room and team building package", but it's not just the teams who learn something about themselves...
I did too.
I often do these rooms with my fiance, and while our skills sets are complimentary, our personalities are not always...exacerbated under the stress of a 60 minute time limit. ...and while competition can generate urgency, it does not always mean great teamwork ensues.
What is a "team" after all? A group of people coming together to achieve a common goal. (In the case of an escape room - it is to "get out of the room within the hour"...if you start putting on the "faster than other groups" - as I am wont to do - I miss the most important part...enjoying the experience as part of a team.) The best rooms are set up to ensure teamwork, and for many who have had negative experiences in teams, it's time to burst that misconception. It's not just "two heads" that can be better than one, but often, two (or more) bodies, skills sets and personalities.
As a gamesmaster - watching teams go in and out through my doors - I have learned the following:
1. Teams certainly do need to be able to work independently. The teams that stick together are like a singular animal with 2 - 6 heads - while they may have great ideas, they don't cover much ground, an too many ideas can mean too many opinions!
2. While working independently you must:
a. Communicate - it is too easy to assume that because you have found something, others immediately know it too. Along with communicating, pool that resource (in a team task - what are you achieving if you keep things to yourself?)
b. Do your job properly - if you are tasked with "searching" a cursory glance does not fulfill the criteria! Worse still, if other team members assume you have done your job - and why shouldn't they(!?) - this means they will not micro-manage by doing it again. If you haven't actually done it properly, you have not only lost time, but continue to delay the process as someone has to go over your job.
3. Remember your manners. This is much harder under stress, but it maintains motivation when you maintain respect.
4. Compliment. When teams worked independently, some would complete one task while others completed another - the little injection of "Wow - that's awesome - how did you do that?" (although there's not always time to answer at that moment) clearly energised performance.
5. Teams are equal - you're all on the same side - ditch the power struggle. "I told you so" solves nothing, and worse, sometimes you might even be blind-sided by your approach. A strong personality who thinks they are right is the surest way to throw a team off track.
6. Remain open minded - again past experience may teach you some things, but, similarly to point 5, can mislead you - listen to other ideas.
7. Enjoy the process. You are doing the task for a reason - and if it is only "to get the fastest escape time" or more organisation-based "to do better than someone else", your pleasure and success is only measurable by a yardstick that someone else has to set. To have fat, you must have thin; to have dark you must have light - if you cannot be both, too great a focus on a singular success measure or target removes the joy of doing the task! Have fun!
8. The task itself can contribute to your enjoyment. Great teams doing an awful task can be demoralised, similarly less experienced teams doing an interesting task can be energised. As an escape room owner, I take pride in offering an engaging and fun hour...as a teacher and manager, it is essential to remember that the task can be as much a part of the positivity of a team as the people!
9. Teams must also be able to work together. Sometimes you need another person to help complete something - and when you let that happen, you experience something great - a meeting of minds - a connection. For that moment, you'll just "click"...and you'll have laid the foundation to work together in future.
10. Remember - there is a "me" in team - do your job well, but if you arrange it the right way, there's a "mate" too!
The pleasure of working in a team - can be being part of a team itself.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt