The US Military: Escape Rooms to Test Leadership

2021.05.26.

Though escape room games have been all the rage for the last decade and growing increasingly popular, they have remained firmly within the sphere of the general public. Games held over weekends and during the week are marketed to and played by members of the public, who come together and play as teams. But more recently, scientist and behaviourist have started taking a deeper look into the game and seeing the ways in which they can be adapted to more specialized use, whilst still maintaining the essential gameplay and goals. 

To that end, we've seen an uptake in non-public groups starting to play these games as either a gathering source of information about the players involved or as geared up to a specific organizational goal. The escape room game can be themed with puzzles and clues that are designed to highlight various aspects of the player's abilities or skills. So it should come as no surprise that the US military is showing interest in using these games in their training procedures.

The Scout Platoon of 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), has recently started to employ escape rooms as a tool for the evaluation of new recruits and try-outs. They are achieving this by working hand in hand with their own Fort Campbell Ready and Resilient Performance Center, which now boasts two escape room scenarios. 

This was something one of the cadres at the Warriors in Transition unit put together,said Steve Cohen, lead performance expert for 3rd Brigade Combat Team. He brought the idea and equipment to us because he thought this was something we could use as a possible training tool. It's two scenarios to run the games with, and weíve been using for about five years.

R2 works with units across the site with various resources and training exercises.

We linked up to R2 a few weeks ago and they were able to incorporate it into our tryouts, said Sgt. 1st Class Cullen Tierney, 2-506th Inf. Regt. Scout Platoon sergeant. We're looking at how leaders step up and how they work with different Soldiers. Itís groups of different Soldiers from different companies across our battalion working together to solve a difficult task, so we evaluate how an individual leader steps in situations where heís not normally the team leader.

Tierney explained that so far 14 soldiers have been through the escape room training program. They had to find clues and solve puzzles that would lead to the receiving of codes. With these, they would be able to unlock the various items that were stopping them from leaving the room. 

We had some teams that didn't do so well, some teams that went really well, he said.I think it's a great tool to measure how the Soldiers and leaders were interacting, who steps up and takes charge, and how well they do. I think it's a great tool and we'll definitely be using it again in the future, it was very beneficial for us.

The design of the escape rooms is simple, but the results are impressive.

It's a really good tool that we use to highlight team dynamics, Cohen said.It highlights whether or not individuals can work together and problem-solve to come up with creative solutions. They are evaluated on how they search and delegate tasks, they need to be able to not be overwhelmed with a lot of information or get frustrated in lack of progress. We also look at how are they communicating to each other and what level of leadership is starting to emerge over the course of the time period.

Just as with a public escape room scenario, the rooms can e used to help showcase the strengths and also highlight the weaknesses of a group of soldiers. To that end, it offers a great tool for when evaluations are needed. At the end of each training escape room session, the soldiers are encouraged to speak about their experiences and about how they might tackle things differently. This de-briefing allows the soldiers to understand what worked and why, as well as what didn't as well. They can see the reasons as to what and how they should approach improving themselves.  

A lot of the good doesnít come from the escape room itself, it comes from the conversation we have afterwards, Cohen said. It all depends on the training requests that we receive. For the Scouts, they wanted an assessment on how well these Soldiers perform by just running them through the scenario and then evaluating to determine if these individuals would be a good fit for the scouts.

The escape room is not a recreational activity, Cohen said. The rooms are strictly for training or evaluation purposes, and the R2 team can help determine if the escape room is the best fit for the outcome goal each unit is seeking.

It's a unique opportunity, Cohen said. Being out in the field and training is a great avenue, but if they want to look at how they are strictly communicating with each other and how they step up as leaders, I think this is a great comprehensive look at these dynamics that is different than the normal training units perform daily.

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