This post is about what I've seen good escape room teams do badly. It isn't an indictment of the team or even the behavior which I'm sure works in other arenas, but about the mistakes I see in escape rooms, often in team-building situations.
1. A leader in a non-escape room situation tries to take control.
This is a big one. Decision making in companies or in other walks of life (like the military or business) frequently are done in a hierarchical way, where there is a primary decision maker who is the main person responsible for the whole project. The first layer under her breaks down the project into smaller domains and they are responsible for those elements, and then a layer under them who have the project broken down into even smaller chunks.
This way of doing things is common in businesses and the military and information is passed up the chain for decision making, and down the chain for task assignment. The problem in an escape room context is that it is very difficult for one person to know whether someone is on the right track in a puzzle without being the main person (or people) working on that puzzle. In addition, information having to go up the chain and back down is often inefficient and delays the group.
Lesson: Keep your groups diffused without a single absolute leader.
"I'm stuck. Totally stuck. There has to be another piece of this map somewhere, and I've been searching for ages!" "Oh. I saw one of those pieces 10 minutes ago, and I put it in corner for safe-keeping." This conversation plays out constantly in escape rooms across the country. You must communicate well to work well together. Too often players will find or deduce a piece of information and then never explain that information to their team. I've seen this happen where someone will read a hint from a hint screen and never tell their team, keeping it for themselves! We call these people hint-heroes. ;)
Lesson: Communicate, even things that you think other people know.
3. Too ... much ... noise.
This is a rarer but still significant obstacle for teams. It's the opposite of number 2 above. Sometimes a person will want to communicate so much that every thought that enters their mind they want to communicate to the whole group. While in theory this may seem a good idea, in practice it leads to the whole team either completely tuning this person out, or worse, leading to the whole team only being able to work on whatever thoughts the over-sharer is thinking.
Lesson: Don't share every thought you think of to everyone in the group.
4. Hurting Morale.
Some people in groups are more concerned with how the process of solving puzzles will be considered after the fact than the overall success of the group. For example, person A thinks of an idea. Person B thinks its a bad idea. They work on something else. Later, a new piece of information comes to light which reveals person A to be on the right track. If person A complains, "You were so wrong, person B!", or gloats, "I knew I was right!", or if person B pouts, "I suck at this." it can hurt team morale or distract from the goal. You know all those cliches about a rising tide lifting all boats or victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan? They apply here!
Lesson: Keep it positive.
Hopefully these tips will help you on your next escape room! We hope it's Enigma HQ!
Brian Hacker, who thinks he's a great teammate but communicates like he's being watched by the NSA, has been in the games industry for over 20 years, first as a professional Magic player. He went on to become a professional poker player and game designer. In an effort to understand obscure technologies and lose what remaining free time he had, he opened Enigma HQ!