Escape from boring teamwork exercises

Why waste time on a game?

How do you get your team to actually behave like a team instead of a bunch of individuals working separately from each other? While most teams we have worked with have a good degree of teamwork, most of the times there is quite some room for improvement. A fun way to make a team feel what it is like to excel in teamwork is a game, which you can play in an extra session, maybe 60 – 90 minutes of team time: “Escape – The Curse of the temple” by Queen Games is a cooperative and messy game which you can leverage to increase collaboration and coordination in your team! Have fun learning about

  • why taking time for meaningful communication (often disregarded as “meeting overhead”),
  • planning cooperation by getting an overview of a complex situation together, and
  • actual teamwork in terms of “doing things together” instead of just following a similar goal

helps to speed up and reach your goals faster (or actually: at all!).

About the game

The game is cooperative, that means: the players need to “escape” from a temple they have to explore while playing, and they can only win if every player escapes from the temple within 10 minutes. Sounds like a quick game, but you’ll be very exhausted afterwards, because – and that’s the messy part – the game is not played in rounds: each player rolls their dice at the same time, over and over again, as often and quickly as they want to! While they discover new “rooms” all the time on their way to the exit, in some rooms the team can activate gems… and they need to, otherwise they won’t be able to get out.

If you as the facilitator don’t know the game, please take time with friends or family to try and learn beforehand, it is important that you know the rules. The games home page offers PDF versions of the rules in many languages.

How to use Escape in Team Learning

Escape can be played with up to 5 players, but you should plan to have 6 to 10 players for your session. The idea is to let half of the team play, and the other half observes how they play, draw a “burn up chart” for rooms explored (the exit is in the last five rooms, so they need to explore a lot) and “burn down graph” for gems activated (without activating almost all gems, they won’t be able to use the exit). It is key to let observers note actual quotes from the players, since game play is very hectic and quick, they’ll most likely not remember exactly what they did or said. In all of my sessions, the first attempt of the game failed – the team died, and that’s good! Not for spirit, but for learning. Most often, lack of clear communication, lack of explicit collaboration and lack of effective re-planning leads to teams dying in the temple. So, after the first game, let the observers give feedback to the players. Take at least 10 minutes to analyze why the team failed, and speak out precise situations like “when Ken was here, he said ‘I need masks’ but no one responded”, more than general “you did not collaborate”.

Then do another round, switching observers with players. Now that everyone knows what to look after and how to behave, the team will have a better chance of winning. Again, take your time to analyze what happened this time.

Extending the rules to learn about team dependencies

If you have time for a third round, you can take it to another level: let both parts of the team play at the same time (you need 2 games then, obviously, and 2 facilitators help a lot, too). We did that in separate rooms because the game play can get quite noisy. We modified the rules, so that collaboration with other teams (the feared dependencies) is modeled in, too.

There are rooms in this game where the team can decide to activate 1, 2, or 3 gems. With two teams playing simultaneously, the new rule is that

  • the “1 gem” option can only be solved by the team themselves,
  • the “2 gems” option can only be solved by going to the other team and asking for the required 7 torches (in this case) from players in that team in the same room, and
  • the “3 gems” option can only be solved by both teams adding up the 10 required torches from both teams.

If a team chooses to ask for help from the other team, and the other team agrees to help, then the other team can only do that with players who are on the same room tile at that time. That does not need to be a “3 gem room”, any room that they are all in is okay.

Added learning with this modification is that team dependencies, while they should be avoided where possible, can lead to better results if handled collaboratively and cooperatively.

Thanks to Malte Sussdorf, who introduced us to using this game in team building at RFG 2016, and to Florian Noeding, who developed the “dependencies” extension with me!

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