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Problem-Solving Teams

Team problem solving is different than other work-related team tasks and requires a different style of management. Teamwork is often thought of as a group of highly skilled people working seamlessly in concert with each other. Examples might be a highly skilled pit crew, sports teams, orchestra and any number of other teams where multiple individuals must work together with skill and precision. In these examples, team members spend countless hours practicing and rehearsing to perfect their individual roles.

Problem solving, on the other hand, is not about precision and accuracy as much as it is about investigative thinking and creativity. Problem solving requires a step into the unknown. It is kind of the opposite of precision and accuracy. Therefore, traditional management styles that stress conformity, accuracy and precision can often run counter to creating an environment where good team problem solving can happen.

Machine vs People

The question “Why hire a person rather than a machine for a job?” is an important one. Businesses are finding that any job that requires consistency and accuracy can be better performed by a machine. A machine doesn’t get bored, distracted or require restroom breaks. Even complex processes are being replaced by machines. A good example of this is the self-driving car. Not only will self-driving cars change the way we get to work, they have the potential of changing the entire transportation system of goods and services.

So why hire people? The answer is really, because people can solve problems.

Solving problems takes a complexity of thought and judgement that machines are incapable of achieving. Sure, machines can process data, but it takes a person to give the data meaning. Problem solving skills require things like creativity, intuition, experience, deductive reasoning, investigation and curiosity, all things that are not a good fit for a machine.

As technology advances the need for good problem solving is increasing. The entire landscape of business is changing with an avalanche of new information and possibilities. Our very culture is changing. We expect “new and better” as a regular course. Each time a new phone comes out we expect it to do more. We demand more of our cars, our home appliances, our entertainment systems, even our clothing. Innovation is becoming the rule of survival for a business rather than the exception. So where does this innovation come from? It comes from people and often it comes from teams of people working to solve problems.

The Research

At Mystery Escape Room we recognized very early that an escape room is an excellent place to learn about and develop better understanding of how teams work together to solve complex problems. The escape room creates the perfect environment for team observation in the critical areas of problem solving like creativity, intuition, deductive reasoning, curiosity and investigative thinking. We’ve now studied tens of thousands of people and thousands of teams in our escape rooms and complied this data into a massive research study. Our study has crossed every age group from young children to those in the twilight of their lives. We’ve seen corporate teams, birthday parties, date night groups, even wedding proposals in our rooms.

We don’t just observe the teams, we take note of how well, or unwell, the team works together to solve the mystery of the room. Every team that comes through our rooms has an extensive evaluation compiled detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the team. We’ve partnered Anita Woolley and Carnegie Mellon University, some of the most respected and leading researchers in world on team behavior, to extract valuable information from our team observations.

This is likely one of the largest sample sets of team behavior ever attempted, and it is giving us deep insights into how teams behave in the critical areas of team problem solving. It is also showing us the huge reservoir of untapped potential available in team problem solving, under the right kind of environment. We've seen that most businesses and organizations are nowhere close to tapping into the potential of their employees.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the interesting discoveries that we’ve learned from our research and how it can be applied to improving team problem solving performance. I hope you join me in this exploration.

If you would like more information about our research studies into team behavior, contact the author at

For more information about Mystery Escape Room, or to schedule a team building event, check out our website

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