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Click-bait alert! Now that you’re here, let me tell you about my experience in an escape room and the lessons I learned from it.

For a work event, we went to Roundabout Canada Escape to try the Ninja Room, dojo-themed escape room challenge. Escape rooms are a recent entertainment trend that challenge participants to solve a series of puzzles in order to uncover the mysteries of the room. It’s a fun, engaging way for a group to work together on a single goal: escape!

Since this was a work event, drawing parallels between the way we played the game and the way we work together, in the lean agile style, was a natural result, so here’s what I learned:

Approaching the work with a no-pressure sense of fun nets great results
As soon as we entered the room, we all set to exploring. We didn’t have a meeting first to discuss our approach, we just set to. There were some minor ground rules from the facilitator, like not to use force, not to break anything, and how to get help. But without having to worry about profits, return on investment, getting buy-in from stakeholders, we were free to focus on our singular goal of finding a scroll from Ninja Master Kotaro.

Actually, a word on focus: if we had been focused only on our end game, then it would have made it harder to solve the puzzles being presented to us. Dealing with the immediate tasks in front of us with the ultimate goal in mind — that’s what got us through.

Divvying up the work
There were several items in the room that looked like “something” and others that didn’t seem like “things” at all. Very soon, a natural division of work started happening with those who were more puzzle-minded focusing their efforts on those, and others self-tasking with exploring the room. If it appeared that enough people were working on certain tasks, people would split off to tackle other problems. One puzzle required a person on one side of the wall to direct a person on another side of the wall to shift and move pieces to help move a ball down a path. It became evident very quickly that more than one person giving the direction was a hindrance rather than a help.

Communication is key
On the same puzzle, good communication was paramount. The person moving the pieces had to really listen to the navigator. After a few tries, a language was developed and you could see the 2-person team start to understand how their partner was parsing the information presented. With a time limit set on escaping the room, this puzzle really demonstrated how well people performed under pressure and how the team members reacted and fed off of each other’s level of excitement.

Debugging
The room contained some red herrings — found items that seemed important, but that we now know were just distractions. This led us to believe that some items that we found that seemed important, but not in an obvious way, were simply tricks. Sometimes we’d go back several times to look at the item, to no avail. In the end, it took going back to the same thing and looking at it in a different way to finally discover the hidden trick. Persistence and divergent thinking was the key there. Taking breaks and going back later to take another look helped as well. Also, a bit of stubbornness.

Playtime is fun!
Getting out of the office and playing as a team is good times. We all agreed that this kind of brain-challenging team event was super relevant and engaging to the way we work together everyday, giving each of us a chance to exercise parts of our brain that don’t necessarily get stretched in our day-to-day. Lots of lessons learned that can be applied to our work. 5 Ninja stars. Would recommend.

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