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Susquehanna Life

Lewisburg’s Fantasy Escape Room & The Value of Teambuilding Skills

Nov 27, 2016 04:00PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

By Maribeth Guarino

You are in a dimly lit room with two heavy doors—one in front of you, one behind. On the walls are old western “Wanted” posters; the room is furnished with a few trunks, shelves and a sturdy table. It’s 1849 and, along with a few friends, you are here to steal gold from a prospecting neighbor. The only problem? He has inconveniently locked everything down—including you. Can you work together to get out with all the gold before the prospector returns home?

This is one of the possible scenarios of Lewisburg’s Fantasy Escape Room, a teambuilding exercise located on Market Street. Teambuilding, used in a variety of settings from boardrooms to university classrooms, is a set of activities that aid in focusing and uniting team members. It may involve a ropes course, a weekend retreat or seminar, or something fun that seems completely unrelated—like an escape room.

Activities also involve different types and levels of risk. Icebreakers like the “Human Knot,” where team members attempt to untangle themselves without letting go of each other’s hands, require a different risk than going out onto a ropes course with your team and climbing a 10-foot wall.

Katie Burr, director, First Year Experience, Susquehanna University, and a facilitator of teambuilding activities, delves a little deeper into why these activities vary so much.

“Many [of these] exercises reveal a level of vulnerability,” she explained. “[They] allow for exploration, challenge, and solidification of team strengths, values, and goals in a low-risk setting that can be applied to real-life situations.”

In this way, Burr says, the team becomes a higher-functioning unit. One of her senior students, Jackie Letizia, also speaks to this point. “My favorite part about teambuilding is in the name—I love seeing how a group of people can come together over a short period of time.”

How it’s done


Working in teams is a vital part of most settings, both work- and learning-related. Despite idyllic dreams of perfect teamwork, we all have been part of groups that do not get along, or in which one person domineered a project. And there’s always someone who is happy to step back and let everyone else do all the work.

One effective way in which team leaders may address problematic group dynamics is by following a certain pattern in running teambuilding exercises: defining a stated goal for the activity; participating in the activity; and ending with a facilitated debrief.

For example, when doing the “Human Knot,” facilitators may explain the activity as “untangling yourselves without letting go.” Then the participants would engage in the activity, under the watchful eye of the facilitator who observes and ensures safety (balance, for example, may be difficult to maintain, depending on how participants choose to untangle themselves). After the activity is completed—successfully or unsuccessfully—the team talks about what happened and how each person felt during and afterwards.

Burr emphasizes the important role facilitators play in debriefing teambuilding activities to verbalize “strengths, challenges, areas of improvement, and aspirations” as well as to “draw out issues and tensions.”

She encourages facilitators to celebrate the good and troubleshoot problems during these sessions, with frequent reminders of the common goal.

“The root of the word facilitate is ‘facile,’ or easy,” she explains. “To facilitate means ‘to make easier.’ As a facilitator, my role is to set participants up for success in their growth as a team—not by giving them answers, but by asking intentional questions and presenting relevant context.”

It is also important to note that the stated goal—such as detanglement in the “Human Knot”—may turn out to be different during the debrief, where team members may realize the value of clear communication or the importance of listening to everyone and their ideas.

Burr also speaks about reluctant participants, and how to encourage cooperation within activities.

“If members are forced unwillingly to participate, there will be resistance,” she notes. “A facilitator should begin with group agreements or asking each member why they are participating. I like to encourage members to push themselves ‘an inch or two’ outside their comfort zone, because that’s where growth happens.”

So what?

Whitney Purcell of the Susquehanna University Career Development Center emphasizes just how important teamwork is in the workplace.

“Teamwork speaks to a range of other skills like empathetic listening, leadership and followership, knowing how to prioritize tasks and delegate responsibilities,” she says. “They’re all evidence of a well-rounded employee—or a signal that a less-attuned employee may need some additional coaching.”

Once ingrained, Purcell notes, teamwork is a skill prospective employees can use to sell themselves. “Sometimes we can get lost in the jargon of our careers,” she illustrates. “Do you know this computer program? Do you understand this sales concept?  We forget that these are learnable concepts, and abilities like listening, communicating well and inspiring others follow us from career path to career path.”

Clearly, from elementary school classrooms where children help each other clean up blocks to boardrooms where teams collaborate to create products, teamwork is an invaluable skill worth learning.

Maribeth Guarino, a Susquehanna University senior with a double major and a publishing and editing minor, is from New Jersey and looks forward to attending law school in the DC area next year.

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