Corporate team building, which for years brought co-workers together in disdain for activities such as trust falls and ropes courses, has elevated its game.
Escape rooms, “Survivor”-style competitions and improv training are bringing a new level of excitement — and perhaps effectiveness — to the once-dreaded outings, meant to bond employees and fortify roles outside the confines of their daily cubicle-farm existence.
A recent excursion to a Chicago escape room by a team of 15 United Airlines employees proved challenging, surprising and successful in shaking up the status quo, with an intern leading his managers to freedom and participants energized in the process.
Whether a simulated jail break transfers to an improved workplace, however, remains an open question.
“It’s not clear yet what are the benefits of it, other than people love it because it’s something outside of work,” said Eduardo Salas, an organizational psychology professor at Rice University in Houston. “But when they go back, the same conditions are there, so the long-term effects of team building are unknown.”
While team-building facilitators for ropes courses and the like have proliferated over the years and business was brisk, the old-school outings rarely hit the mark and improve performance, said Wendy Bedwell, an assistant professor of organizational psychology at the University of South Florida.
Both the creativity and fun quotient in today’s activities from improv training to solving staged crimes and charity activities has also increased the potential bonding benefits to workplaces, she said.
The activities are more engaging and require employees to work together in tangible ways such as problem solving, she said.
Escape rooms like PanlQ Room in Chicago have emerged as the go-to team-building activity. The activity can be both intellectual and physical, Bedwell said.
“Anything that really requires people to work together, think critically and solve a problem is going to have more of a benefit than just standing in a forest and falling backwards and having everyone catch you,” Bedwell said.