An Hour of Play | How Plato Predicted Escape Rooms’ Team-Building Benefits

Between his everlasting influence on ethics, art, poetry, politics, and pretty much everything in-between, Plato’s name probably comes up in conversation more often than anyone is bothering to keep track of anymore. But if there’s one topic on which I never expected Plato to have weighed in, it’s the advantages of escape rooms from a team-building standpoint. 

Not least because one pre-dates the other by about two-and-a-half-thousand years, the odds of the classical greek philosopher having imparted anything of value towards the topic are surely miniscule. Yet, somehow, attributed to him is the following sentence which perfectly sums up the importance of escape rooms in a workplace context:

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

So let’s unpack this. What is it that one can discover about another through play? It is, after all, unlikely that a game of Poker will enlighten you about how many siblings your colleague has, or that winning at Jenga will entitle you to their deepest, darkest secrets. But is it any more likely that those secrets will be divulged to you in conversation, even after years of talking? And what can you really do with the information that Jan who sits opposite you is the oldest of four sisters? The truth of the matter is that everyone in a professional environment - you included, dear reader - has their guard up. It’s human nature. People have a tendency to play it safe when they feel their job hangs in the balance, censoring their gut reaction and replacing it with what they know will go down easier. But it’s the opinion of many experts that while conflict mitigation is important, placing it at the top of the priority list for what makes ‘good communication’ can be detrimental to everything from staff motivation to profitability. 

So what do the experts say?

Dr. Robet Cialdini, author of Influence and Pre-Suasion, has dedicated his career to the science of influence and its ethical implications in business. It is his opinion that stifling honest and open communication is not sustainable in any enterprise. His research finds that even white lies, for example, told most often by employees afraid of being accused of underperforming, can have a huge impact on employees’ performance for two main reasons. The first of these is the ‘moral stress’ of carrying those lies, which often leads to workers burning themselves out. Meanwhile, those who are uncomfortable with the lies altogether, says Cialdini, will certainly pack their bags, taking the workforce’s remaining productivity with them.

It’s not so much what your colleagues tell you, then, than what they don’t. But the issue goes further still. A 1994 study from the University of York’s department of psychology on the nature and importance of what’s called ‘informal communication’ suggests that the unplanned conversations in any given office (that is, the ones that happen between meetings, in the lunchroom, etc.) are invaluable due to the fact that it’s during these interactions that people learn most about how their peers most effectively absorb and act upon information. Their body language and tone of voice give them away, indirectly filling in the listener on all the things that were concealed in the formal morning meeting. But these informal conversations -- these that are supposedly make or break if you want your workforce to gel -- are useless if one party’s guard remains well and truly up, which it too often can in a distrustful office. 

This is what Plato seems to have understood. If a conversation is rendered useless by dishonesty, then a year’s worth of these conversations will be just as devoid of any real insight. The key is to catch people off-guard, and to do that, there’s no better way than to get them having fun.  

Okay, but how can playing an escape room help?

At clueQuest, we see first hand the effects that immersing adults in a fantasy world full of its own responsibilities and pressures, but with pleasures aplenty, can have on their group dynamics. The effect can often be one of turning back the clock; presenting a group of people with a common goal, but in a new environment in which none of their pre-existing worries exist. Okay, so it would be wishful thinking to believe that all pre-existing power structures are left at the door, but in our experience this is often at least somewhat the case. When it isn’t (surprise, surprise) teams tend to fail. 

But let’s run with the presupposition that our team in question do leave the office quibbles at the door. Now let’s expand on the common goal. A term often used in the workplace, but is it really as present as the management would like to think? Yes, it’d be great for everyone if the company performed better this coming quarter, but is it really at the forefront of Sheila in HR’s mind, or in Tom the intern’s as he shreds his nine-hundredth piece of paper of the day? Or is it more likely that Sheila’s main goal for the day is to avoid yet another altercation with her insensitive colleague, and that Tom’s is to get some job applications done on the side, in preparation for the end of his ten-week contract? At work, personal objectives can cloud the greater purpose and effect performance. But at an escape room, the common goal reclaims its importance. It’s the reason you’ve come; the reason you’ve paid, and when you believe in the theme, it’s not just about escaping a room in under an hour. Rather, it’s a matter of life or death. 

We do everything in our power to convince our players that they are Mr Q’s newest secret agents and London’s only hope for survival. And when people’s lives are in the balance, who cares if the instructions aren’t coming from above? This is a place where good ideas reign supreme. In fact, once those doors close, there is no ‘above’. You’re all secret agents of the same rank. You have the rare chance to see your team’s true character. Now all you need to do is figure out what to do with it… If you’re a smarty-pants, you may already know where I’m going with this, so I’ll cut to the chase. Where better to put it to the test than in a room full of puzzles?! The sheer variety of types of puzzle in our escape rooms are specially designed to require a wide array of soft skills, at the heart of which are:

  • Teamwork

  • Communication

  • Leadership

  • Problem-solving

  • Attitude

Now here’s where I could give you an example from our rooms. But you’ll have to pardon the cliche when I say that if I did that… I’d have to kill you. You’ll just have to come and play for yourself! Until then though, I simply hope you’ll let Plato’s words of wisdom resonate. What the man seems to have understood is something that, millenia later, is still too often forgotten to this very day: Present people with fantasy, and they’ll present to you their true selves. Then, and only then, can you begin to really get the most out of your team.

Find out more about team-building at clueQuest by visiting the page on our website: https://bit.ly/2MR5WLN

While you’re here...

Look at you. You’ve scrolled all the way down to the bottom. We like that. So even if this isn’t for you, you must be considering getting in touch about something, right? Maybe you’re thinking that even though you’d like to put your workforce to the test, you may be too busy participating to be able to observe your team. You’re wondering whether we have a programme which would allow you to receive clear and concise feedback about your team’s behaviour from a trained professional observing your game. Well guess what… We do! It’s called the clueQuest Assessment Programme, or CAP. You can find out more about it by clicking the link below: https://cluequest.co.uk/corporate/cq-assessment-programme

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