Escape rooms present a new side to meetings, team building

  • The Room in Lisle is one of the few new Escape Room venues in the area. Patrons enter a room and have to work through clues to find the code to escape the room, clues can lead to keys that open cabinets and other objects in the room.

      The Room in Lisle is one of the few new Escape Room venues in the area. Patrons enter a room and have to work through clues to find the code to escape the room, clues can lead to keys that open cabinets and other objects in the room. Mark Black | Staff Photographer, file photo

  • Participants look for clues at the D.O.A. Room Escape in Addison, part of a growing entertainment trend where patrons enter a room and have to work through clues to find the code to escape the room. Clues can lead to keys that open cabinets and other objects in the room.

      Participants look for clues at the D.O.A. Room Escape in Addison, part of a growing entertainment trend where patrons enter a room and have to work through clues to find the code to escape the room. Clues can lead to keys that open cabinets and other objects in the room. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
By Samantha Nelson
Contributing Writer
Updated 5/15/2017 8:15 PM

Businesses looking to encourage cooperation among co-workers, evaluate an employee's problem solving skills or even see how a potential hire responds to pressure have taken to locking them in rooms and watching them escape.

"Traditionally team building just meant going out and drinking with the people you work with," said Matt Hanson, co-owner of Bloomingdale's Challenge Accepted escape room. "This is giving an opportunity to companies to allow for an actual experience that allows for bonding and evaluating strengths and weaknesses and coming together as a team to get something accomplished. It takes different backgrounds and different personality types. It requires different thought processes in order to achieve the goal. It creates this draw for corporations to get their people together."

 

Escape rooms, which challenge people to search for clues and solve puzzles to deal with imaginary scenarios such as disarming a bomb or recovering stolen money, have been opening throughout the Chicago area to cater to casual thrill-seekers looking to test themselves and companies who see the host of benefits the exercises can offer. Mark Murman, who opened Wheaton's Escape for Fun with his wife, Lisy, in 2016, said that while his escape rooms -- which task players with deactivating a mad scientist's bomb or escaping from a medieval dungeon -- primarily attract 20- to 30-year-olds, he's also hosted dates, families, birthday parties and plenty of corporate groups.

"I think teamwork is a big, big part of it," he said. "It gets together groups of people and lets them experience something different within a short amount of time. You're all put in an environment where you have to think outside of the box. There are parts of the room that could be parts of a puzzle that you might not think would relate to each other, but someone else would."

Putting people together and giving them an hour to solve a series of tricky programs can show how they deal with stress, Murman said. He's worked with one business manager who brings in teams to test them, discussing their performance in the escape room over lunch or dinner.

"They talked about it for hours, about what each person did and how they could do it more effectively," Murman said. "This manager was really serious about analyzing how they worked as a team."

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Bloomingdale-based natural health company NOW Foods regularly sends groups to Challenge Accepted, where they try to track down a missing person in a room decorated as the office of a big game hunting company, or take on the roles of doctors from around the world who must escape from a bomb placed in the lab they are visiting.

"Most of the time the groups walk out having a bit different viewpoint of their co-workers than they had before, usually a bit more respect for things that a person knows or their talents," Hanson said. "There's always something that somebody does that's surprising to the other people."

During the off-season, Aurora haunted house Basement of the Dead operates Legendary Escape Rooms, letting groups try to escape a murderer's lair or raid a bioterrorist lab occupied by a zombie that gets more room to attack every few minutes that passes. The suspense and horror themes haven't deterred high school and college sports teams, and groups of office workers, who come to take on the challenges.

"It is team building at its pinnacle," co-owner Jason Seneker said. "You're really putting people in a stressful environment. You're working together, or you're not getting out. If you clam up or you don't listen to each other, you're not going to make it out and it's going to be a mess. It's interesting to watch how they communicate to each other, who the take charge person is, how people respond to directions when under pressure."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Challenge Accepted also brings games to businesses that are concerned about travel expenses and liability and has become part of some companies' job application process, letting employers watch how a prospect performs from another room or just view the recordings of their performance later.

"We do a 20-minute room where they run candidates through," Hanson said. "Within four minutes, they've forgotten the camera's there."

The experience can build connections between more than co-workers. Murman said that small groups of customers often get combined with strangers to meet the 8 or 10 people recommended for each room, but they don't stay in their cliques for long.

"At the end of it, they all come out high-fiving each other and having a fantastic time," he said. "Something happens within that hour that really transforms the group."

That same bonding happens at Legendary Escape Rooms, which has seen groups of 10 to 14 people go in without knowing each other and end up getting drinks together upstairs at Ballydoyle Irish Pub. That phenomena also led the space to start hosting singles mixers.

"It's kind of forcing people to talk to each other," Seneker said. "You can't go in there and be quiet. You have to get involved and be part of a team or you're not going to get anything out of it."

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