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How to Design Leadership Escape Rooms

Updated: May 22, 2023

Are you ready for adventure? Escape rooms are a new trend in corporate team building that’s quickly growing in popularity….and for a good reason! Providing an immersion experience “locked” inside a room where colleagues have to work together to solve a mystery within a short timeframe can be a great way to build critical skills with your employees - particularly skills such as communication, collaboration, and solving problems.

One thing to note before you begin: participants at the management or executive level are a unique audience, which means there are several important elements to consider.

First, escape rooms are traditionally designed to take place in an actual room, but there can be greater flexibility when developing them as eLearning modules. These digital rooms can be used in a blended learning program on laptops in a live setting as part of a more extensive strategic leadership training initiative - and your busy execs can have the option to experience the situational exercises anytime online as a part of their ongoing professional development.

Secondly, rather than the typical murder mystery with spyglasses and detective hats, you’ll want to target your approach so that the experience is applicable back on the job.

Let’s say you’re interested in using the concept of an escape room in your next leadership training program. Consider designing the exercise as a case study with a real-life business problem (or problems) to solve. Doing so will better suit your senior staff and up-skill their leadership abilities. For example…

The economic stability of Eliot & Gould Inc. has been waning for the last four years. Customer complaints are up and profit margins are at an all-time low. Your team is now called upon to stop the downturn. With employee morale crumbling around you, you must come up with a plan to turn things around before it's too late.

In a classroom setting, leaders are divided into breakout groups and tasked to complete the interactive scenario within an hour. Participants can openly explore one or more rooms to discover various HR documents, contract disputes, press releases, emails, voicemails, recorded meetings, etc. As learners investigate further into the case study, they learn about issues Eliot & Gould may be having and hear from employees about the organization

To complete the assignment, each team must work together to analyze Eliot & Gould and identify how to resolve issues contributing to the company's deteriorating financial performance. Teams report their findings and recommended business-related improvements as a class presentation and share how these changes will impact Eliot & Gould's economic performance over the next three years. Presentations are evaluated and results are discussed with guided reflection from the facilitator.

Can you see the potential of an experiential and engaging activity like this for your leadership team?

As you can imagine, escape rooms are a fantastic and fun way to practice different leadership skills and facilitate successful decision-making within groups. Best part? You can customize the adventure to whatever skills you’d like your participants to develop.

Before creating your scenario backstory, carefully consider your training goals and objectives. Reflect on the leadership traits and skills that your organization values or gaps in performance. Are there particular leadership competencies that could be further developed, such as verbal communication, listening, adaptability, and conflict negotiation?

Then identify your audience. Is your training for managers, senior executives, or rising leaders? As you develop your room, think of situations you can pose to your participants that will push them to grow and learn. Doing so will help you determine what activities in the case study to employ.

Navigating a thoughtfully designed leadership escape room can lead to greater group cohesion, stronger coworker relations, and more creative input from the team. Tailoring your exercises can also be a good way for senior staff to rehearse their response to realistic high-stakes situations and challenging opportunities - making the escape room activity a handy tool in your team’s leadership development.

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