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Good Teamwork May Mean Having to Hold Hands

We made quick work of finding the first key and unlocking the door of the tiny padded cell, only to find ourselves in a bigger room that was much more mysterious and complicated than the first. The team of five from my parrot sanctuary volunteer shift were locked into the asylum escape room at 6:30 pm and we emerged at 7:14 pm – together. Our successful escape was the result of solid teamwork. Each of us brought diversity of skills, knowledge, and experiences to the challenge. If we had all entered that room with the exact same strengths and abilities, we would have failed the challenge miserably.

Ultimately, it’s the quality of your teamwork that determines if the outcomes are achieved painfully or painlessly (or not achieved at all). The best teams are comprised of individuals who have a broad range of strengths, but despite their different approaches, share a commitment to a common end goal. These teams are able to remain flexible, and individual members work deliberately to develop strong bonds with one another. Here’s what successful teams do:

Honor Diverse Strengths

Know your own individual strengths and be open in discussing them with your team members. The best teams are a representative mix of varying styles and temperaments. It’s not instinctive to seek out those who are different from us. Comfort is in the familiar. But, solving problems and finding solutions requires input from a well-balanced and diverse group of individuals to ensure all the angles and perspectives are considered.

My people-centered approach helped me find escape room clues within the written descriptions of the patients who fictitiously stayed at the asylum. I’m naturally curious about other people’s lives, so I gravitated to their interesting stories. Others on the team were gifted in analytics and numbers, others in big-picture thinking and making seemingly unrelated items somehow connect. We respected what each other brought to the experience and listened to everyone’s insights while exploring the clues that would eventually lead to our escape.

Provide the Right Amount of Time

Teams need time to do their work. Honoring the needs of individual members to process information at whatever speed works best for them will lead to better results. Always place time goals on tasks and actions, but take into account those who process information in a longer and more deliberate manner. They need time to think and then to be heard.

My INFP Meyers Briggs type means I need more time to listen and observe before I begin to bring ideas and solutions to any undertaking. However, my ESTJ teammates are actively and outwardly engaging with information right on the spot, ready to jump to the next task while I’m still exploring the previous. An escape room is meant to be a high-pressure experience with limited time, so naturally it is easier for faster processors. But high-quality work teams must account for and provide adequate time for all individual members to ensure the best input is received from everyone.

Keep the Shared Goal in Focus

Every team has a shared goal or outcome they’re working toward. When you have a multitude of strengths and types, you will invariably have tensions and conflict. Even the best teams have that. Sometimes his can lead to an impasse, but not all is lost. Bring your team’s focus back to the shared outcomes and discuss how each of you will achieve them. Despite your differences, you’re all working toward the same endpoint. And if you’re not, then you may be on the wrong team. Me and my escape-mates all shared the same goal of getting out of there before the clock struck one hour.

Make Friends with Flexibility

All successful teams have a well-documented work plan or charter that describes their shared goals and the high-level steps that will help get them there. However, once your team is in the thick of it, sometimes the direction may need to shift due to those elusive “unknown unknowns”. Teams need defined guideposts, but there should always be room for modification and change. Successful teams are flexible in working their plan and nimble in response to new information. Many ideas were attempted and abandoned during our 44-minute asylum escape. Now, extrapolate that experience to a 12-month project. Flexibility becomes even more important.

Hold Hands if Necessary

Wait, whaaatt? Hold hands with my coworkers?! Yeah, that’s a pretty far-fetched idea, but please stick with me on this metaphor. Our escape room team’s final act that led to our freedom was to hold hands so that we could simultaneously touch two spots on opposing walls. When both walls were touched at the same time, the last door opened. An inconspicuous picture of people holding hands, combined with all the insights gleaned from each of us throughout the experience, led to this aha! moment. We excitedly joined hands, without reservation, and voila, the door swung open.

Is your team at a stand-still or have you reached a fork-in-the-road? You don’t need to hold hands, but you should try to find a way to commune together outside of the office to help build a different kind of bond. Team bonding that rises above the standard 9 to 5 office hours can bring vital insights and solutions that were not previously attainable. When you’re able to relax and show a more vulnerable side of yourself, then fun and creative ideas can more readily take shape. Why do you think Google and Apple have play areas for their employees? Because they contribute to higher employee productivity, engagement, and creativity.

Follow these five suggestions with your current or future teams and look to gain better outcomes on your projects (as well as your next escape room adventure).

Kimberly Nuckles is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Blake Martin

Very interesting read as I loved the comparison between teamwork in a professional setting and teamwork in an escape room. Team bonding is crucial to the rapport we build with one another as coworkers and professional friends.