Immersive Learning
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Immersive Learning

Learning by Escaping — Part II

What your last escape game can teach you about your business performance

“Alex didn’t like solving maths puzzles in escape games. Just looking at the numbers seemed to jumble them up, maybe it was the time pressure. But then Charlie, a whizz with numbers over pressure headed their way. But they weren’t there to do the puzzle, they were only there to offer support. After a deep breath it was with Alex to solve this puzzle. This time the sums seemed to work, maybe it was just about being calm!”

We love escape games and playing them is fun, but they can also play a role in learning and development. In this series of articles we’re looking at how business challenges can be overcome using the immersive learning techniques that you find in escape games. If you missed Part I then you can find it here.

Over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to have created “Escape Game” experiences at many different events and for a variety of audiences. Playing the role of Gamesmaster in these activities has allowed us to observe first-hand how the participants approach the puzzles and challenges.

In this article we’re examining measuring team performance in escape games and how that translates to the workplace.

In the early days of escape games there was typically one objective for the team. Yes, as the name suggests you needed to “escape”. So the game scenario was always to be locked in a room with you needing to find your way out. And in the first games that were developed your host would literally lock the door and leave you to it.

Over time the objective of these games has evolved and instead of simply escaping, you have another mission to complete in the room. This could be recovering an object, discovering the evil mastermind’s latest plot or even as grand as traveling back in time to put right what once went wrong. But in all of these games we have a defined objective to achieve within a fixed time limit.

In escape games there is a challenge to be overcome and some teams will succeed and some will fail. Unlike in the business world the outcome doesn’t really matter as long as the team had fun playing. But despite this difference can we use the escape game concept to investigate team performance?

Well, the short answer is yes. But to do so we need an objective measure. In the context of the escape game that’s an easy one. Did the team complete the game within the time limit? Or put in the language of the game, did they “escape”?

In this context “escaping” directly equates to the performance of the team in the same way timely completion does on any project. You achieve success or you don’t, at one level it’s pass or fail.

Unlike the real world, where there are many external factors that can impact on whether a project is completed on time, this is generally not the case in an escape game. While we must acknowledge that there are some variables that can affect the outcome of the game, like the effectiveness of the gamesmaster, the quality of the puzzles and the reliability of the game, they are all minimal in a well designed and run escape game.

What this means is that at best game completion time gives us a quantitative measure and at worst completion status gives us a benchmark or standard for performance.

Failing to Escape

When the team fails to escape its easy to equate this to poor performance. And in short it is. Additionally, how close the team were to escaping could also be seen as a measure of how poor their performance was. While we could look at the estimated time to completion and then start to make assertions based on that as a measure of effectiveness, it would be wrong to do so. That’s a bit unfair I hear you say, surely it’s about context? In this case I’d argue not.

An alternative way of thinking about this is in terms of quality. Despite what many people believe, quality is not a scale, it’s about achieving a standard. You either meet that standard or you don’t. There is no nearly in quality. It’s exactly the same in an escape game, there is no nearly escaped.

If we allow ourselves to think in terms of nearly being ok we then start excusing our failure. We would have escaped if only …

It’s human nature to think this way, as we generally want to see the best in people and situations. But what we should be doing is treating each failure as a failure. We should then go back and review what happened and find the root causes for the failure. But how to do is not necessarily a straightforward process and so we’ll cover it in detail in a future article!

The Escapers

So now let’s consider the teams that do escape. These are our good performers but in contrast to poor performance we can potentially grade the results to see who the high performers are.

But where should we start? Well preferably with a quantitative measure again. Given that we are timing every team’s game, one variable to consider when measuring their performance is therefore how quickly did they escape.

This is a natural parameter to examine first but quickly leads us to an interesting conundrum. Do the highest performing teams finish quickest?

In finding the answer to this question it leads us to another important consideration, is high performance about maximising the team’s efficiency, ie minimising the time it takes to escape, or is it about the overall effectiveness of the team during the game?

It may initially sound like these two are the same. After all, surely you must have completed the task better if you did it quicker. However, when we begin to break down what good looks like we can start to see how the best teams use the game experience to derive long term benefit for them from the experience, not just to get the best time.

Breaking it Down

This may seem counter-intuitive as we’re so used to being asked to focus on the short term view of the world. In the escape game this means the result of the current game. What we’re less used to is looking at the long term view, ie what will the results of the next 20 games be.

Once we think in those terms we then need to consider a range of other factors. Will the team stay together, what happens if one team member isn’t around for the next game, how will they cope with more difficult games, how will they respond to the successes and failures along the way.

When we start to look at this bigger picture we start to realise that completion time isn’t everything.

Let’s look in more detail at a couple of those points. Firstly, if we are going to succeed in future games we need everyone in the team to learn from their experience. In a game this might be as simple as team members working on puzzles that are not their strength.

If they do this with support from those who are stronger at the skill required to solve the puzzle they will succeed and they will learn. In turn this will make them more capable and more confident. The team will subsequently benefit from less single points of failure in the future.

This approach will likely take more time to complete the puzzle than simply giving it to the person best equipped to solve it. As long as we are still hitting our benchmark and completing the game within the time limit, this is arguably a better outcome than finishing quicker without learning anything.

This approach to learning will also aid with inclusion in the game. If any one of the team members are unable to contribute as a result of others diving in to solve the puzzle as quickly as possible then this can generate a feeling of exclusion. So the team that takes time to ensure everyone is included is also arguably the better performing.

When we book in to play a game we’re also doing so with an understanding of how long the experience will be. If we’ve booked in for 60 minutes then why would we want to get out in only 30 minutes? So the issue of participation is also important in this context, and more specifically on maximising the amount of time we’re engaged and maybe more importantly how much fun we have.

So given all of this why would high performance simply equate to the fastest completion time? In our assessment the highest performing teams are the ones who do take this step back from the heat of the game to ensure that longer term goals within the team are achieved. That is one key differentiator of high performing teams that can be observed in an escape game.

Applying the learning to our business

Now let’s look at some of the parallels from the escape game in the workplace and see what we can learn from it.

In a software development context, finishing the escape game in 30 minutes rather than the 60 that was provided would probably be seen as a failure to correctly estimate the required completion time. The result of this would probably be greater scrutiny of the time that is estimated for completion of all features included in the next sprint.

On a high pressure software development project the often ruthless drive to maximise efficiency and customer value in each sprint is an important part of the Agile methodology. But how does that impact on the team in the long term?

As we saw in the escape game context, our high performing teams were not solely focused on completion time as their success measure. A long term view of success measures can certainly be applied to any team within our business.

Taking time to ensure that the whole team is constantly learning, reviewing failures openly within the team and exploring new approaches and solutions are all important for long term success.

Only by doing so will your team be correctly equipped for and motivated to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. Short-term thinking is useful for only that, achieving success in the short term. The approaches to ensuring long term success can be observed in the high performing teams in our business and in the escape game.

So in the next escape game that you play take a moment during the game to reflect on not only whether you’re on track to escape, but also on your journey towards that success. If your game finishes after 40 minutes and the whole team hasn’t learn something from their game then maybe your team has another step-up to take to reach the next level of performance.

Next time we’ll look at failing to escape and what it can teach us about leadership within our own businesses.

Part I and Part III

Martyn is a founder of chronyko who have over 10 years experience building and running escape games and many other types of immersive training and skills development events. We’ll be sharing lots more of our thoughts and insights on the subject of immersive learning and development in our upcoming articles.




Thoughts, insights and real world experiences from the world of Immersive Learning. Anyone involved in teaching, training or any other form of learning knows that engagement with the learner is critical. Immersive Learning uses storytelling, puzzles and technology to do that.

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Martyn Ruks

Martyn Ruks

Founder of chronyko, an immersive learning and development business —

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