This New Type of Escape Rooms Is Rescuing Virtual Team Building’s Bad Reputation

Employees appreciate team activities that are thoughtful and rewarding, instead of purely for fun.

Virtual team building has a second-rate reputation among some employees. Take a look at these honest comments.

How people think about team activities
Source: Reddit

In truth, why do employees not enjoy such fun virtual activities?

1. Mixing up team building and socializing

The major difference between the two is that team building focuses on achieving an end goal, e.g. improving the team’s problem solving skills. And socializing focuses on having fun and getting the team connected.

When socializing feels forced (when it is mandatory) or invasive (when it extends beyond work hours), fun can feel like work. It is also not obvious how socializing with colleagues yields better work productivity, so often socializing gets a bad reputation.

And because we all mix up the two, e.g. if you search “virtual team building”, you’ll get a list of fun socializing activities. This is why the reputation spills over to team building. We even wrote a blog post to explain the differences in depth.

People mix up team building with social activities
Searching for team building activities will get you a list of social activities. This confuses people.

2. Not having that special magic of a team challenge

When a team takes on a challenge together, it can spark chemistry that goes beyond verbal communication.

Physically, it means doing push ups together, cheering for your teammates as they sprint to the finish line, and whispering a secret message to initiate a strategy to distract your opponents.

When a remote team focuses on socializing such as verbally sharing personal stories and interests, the special magic is gone.

3. Large video calls are awkward

Photo by Chris Montgomery

Most socializing activities happen with more than 10 people on the call. These chats are usually heavily dependent on a few outgoing colleagues to take lead, and the rest stay relatively quiet. The result is a lot of awkward silence.

How can virtual escape rooms help?

To elevate team spirit and teamwork, remote teams should consider team activities that go beyond the socializing type of virtual happy hours and holiday parties.

And when it comes to team building, escape rooms can help turn around this second-rate reputation as it brings people together to work on challenges that encourage teamwork, communication, and problem solving.

But not all escape rooms can yield the same outcome, so let’s first understand two different types of escape rooms: traditional escape rooms vs collaborative escape rooms.

Traditional escape rooms focus on solving puzzles

According to MindTools, the definition of escape rooms is known as “An Escape Room is a themed challenge event where players collaborate to find clues, complete tasks, and solve a variety of puzzles. It can improve communication, collaboration and decision-making skills.”

That’s the promise, but is it delivered?

Source: Quartz

If you’ve been to an escape room in the past, think about your actual experience there. Did you find these situations happening?

  • Group members don’t talk to each other. Everyone is busy finding the next clue. They look everywhere, they work on mathematical questions in their heads, and they fight to be the person solving the puzzle.
  • While half of the group is solving puzzles, the other half is standing in the room wondering how they can get involved. Due to the time pressure, they’re left behind instead of being brought up to speed. There is also no time to coordinate planning or share each of their progress.
  • There is a sense of internal competition within the group even though no one talks about it. The people who find the most clues are usually the center of attention.

It might be the perfect activity among friends, but the group dynamics it creates are exactly the opposite to what you want to have within your team.

This is why most traditional escape rooms are not a good fit to team building. And a new type of escape rooms is emerging especially for remote teams: collaborative escape rooms.

Collaborative escape rooms focus on interactions and learning outcomes

1. Each group member has a unique role

Instead of competing to be the first one to solve the next puzzle for the group, collaborative escape rooms encourage every group member to get involved by assigning roles with different responsibilities.

Each group member is the only person who can solve that part of a puzzle and they must communicate clearly to move the team forward.

2. Puzzles designed to trigger learnings

In traditional escape rooms, it is common to solve a puzzle and move to the next step without having that “aha” moment.

However, collaborative escape rooms are designed to encourage collaborations. Every group member sees a set of different information on their screens, and every one has to communicate and work together to figure out how the information pieces together.

These puzzles are designed by adult educators so they trigger a set of emotions, feelings, and situations that turn into learning outcomes. For example, a time-sensitive puzzle can test an individual’s ability to handle a critical situation that can jeopardize the entire group’s mission. To ensure group members learn in a fun way, analogies and subtle messages that replicate remote work interactions are also embedded in the escape room design.

3. Debriefing session is where the magic happens

The escape room experience could be fun and engaging, but it is not a complete experience without a proper debriefing session.

Traditional escape rooms don’t include this part as they’re designed for friends and families. Collaborative escape rooms, on the other hand, tie together game elements with reflective questions to consolidate the learnings.

After completing the mission, the group comes together and talks about what happened, how they felt, how they saw themselves and their group members, what they did well, how they could further improve, what went wrong, etc.

For example, a question would be “Discuss and find 3 things you learned from this experience as a team that can have an impact in your regular work.”

At this point, a game experience has turned into a learning experience.

Are virtual escape rooms good team building exercises?

They are! When they are collaborative and specifically designed for remote teams.

The mission-driven challenge puts people in the right mindset to work together. And it encourages the right level of teamwork, engagement, and spirit that can be transformed back to the workplace.

Because everyone is divided into groups of 3-5 pax, the experience is laser-focused on the small groups to ensure everyone can participate to accomplish the mission.

How often should you do virtual team building?

When remote teams mix up team building and socializing, they also make the mistake to run socializing type of activities on a regular basis. This is because they want to provide a place for the team to get together, given everyone is distant from one another.

But employees appreciate team activities that are thoughtful and rewarding, instead of purely for fun. So if you pick the right team building activity with significant learning outcomes, you can only do it every 1-2 months and still achieve more than running socializing activities every week.

If you see that this new type of escape rooms can get your team to collaborate, learn, and have fun at the same time, you should find out more about what we offer at Skyrocket Your Team and get an instant video demo.

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