From a Yawn to a Yahoo!

Escape Room challenge bolsters employee learning for hundreds of workers.

CSL Behring workers taking part in escape room event

Production operators at CSL Behring’s leading-edge manufacturing facility in Kankakee, Illinois, work together to solve the Escape Room challenge. More than 225 workers there have completed the challenge to date.


What’s fun, competitive, challenging and intriguing? The last thing that comes to mind is corporate training.  Most training at work elicits a y-a-w-n, not a “YAHOO.”  Companies spend about $130 billion each year on corporate education, according to a study by Bersin by Deloitte, yet research has found that the average adult forgets 40 percent of what they’ve learned after just 20 minutes, and 64 percent by the next day.

The escape room craze that’s sweeping the nation is also sweeping through CSL Behring’s leading-edge manufacturing facility in Kankakee, Illinois.  An escape room is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategies to complete the objectives at hand and find the key to escape.

According to sociologist Margee Kerr, in a 2015 interview with The Washington Post, who is known for her work studying the effect of fear on the brain, “when we’re just the right level of aroused—which can happen from fear, stress, anxiety, fun, etc. — we perform better. This is the well-tested finding that a little stress is good when doing something like taking a test or completing a challenge.”

As part of the Simply Excellent initiative (operational excellence), the Kankakee site embarked on a lean learning campaign to introduce lean thinking concepts, starting with 5S concepts as one of the lean foundational tools. 5S is a methodology to help organizations achieve more consistent operational results through maintaining an orderly workplace.

When searching for a way to quickly engage employees and reinforce learning that will be the basis for the rest of the campaign, the staff was challenged to be innovative and they hit a home run.  Once the escape room idea was presented, the creative minds went to work.  A small group took the concept and ran with it. 

Process Improvement Analyst Nikki Warman was part of the core team which set up the Escape Room.  “We had a tight timeline to implement this idea, but the team was committed to making it work. It was a lot more fun to create than I anticipated,” she noted. 

Sara Regnier, HR Business Consultant, was also part of the core team.

“We had two weeks to pull this concept together:  finding a space, setting up the room, devising the clues and training the guides,” she said. “My first step was to search Pinterest to see how to set it up. It was a real cross-functional effort.We have a lot of creative minds across the plant.”

There was a bit of trepidation, though, since no one had tried anything remotely like this at the site.  Site senior leadership endorsed the idea and gave the green light.  Warman noted that, “support from site senior leadership was key to the room’s success.”

The result has been a pleasant surprise. The escape room concept brought a unique learning experience to engaging employees. Teams within and among departments have taken on the challenge with varying levels of success – the goal is to solve the puzzles and escape the room within 30 minutes.  The consistent theme, though, is having fun. Some were more challenged than they expected to be. There is also a sense of freedom that comes with being allowed, even expected to step out of the daily routine and off the manufacturing floor to experience this learning event.Typical training is staring at a computer screen, sitting through a classroom lecture or reading through documents and Standard Operating Procedures. 

A group of production operators from different shifts went through the room as a team.The group agreed that the training was interactive and fun versus a lecture and a PowerPoint.

“The Escape Room forced us to think about the topic and learn it. It was effective because we had to apply the concepts to be successful,” noted one team member.

The escape room experience plays on the love of games and competition and natural curiosity.Groups turn into teams and learn each other’s strengths and are able to capitalize on them to solve the puzzles and find success. Another production operator said, “It was fun and we’d recommend all teams go through it.We were all from different shifts. Everyone brought something to the table to help solve the riddles.”

There’s no special knowledge or qualifications required to tackle an escape room challenge. All you need is a willingness to work together. Escape rooms offer a unique platform for learning and also help facilitate a team atmosphere that can benefit business. They also offer a great way to improve morale in the workplace, the feeling of camaraderie is powerful and benefits those working toward a common goal. The escape room format can also provide a forum for identifying those who rise to lead the group through solving the puzzles and delegating the tasks to be successful.

Tony Shock, a supervisor who observed a group take the challenge, likes the concept.  He observed, “It’s challenging.It’s new. People are able to break away from the everyday routine.There’s critical thinking and working together. I was able to see leadership skills come out.”

To-date, more than 270 staff members have been through the Escape Room.  There are plans to continue to use the Escape Room theme for the next lean learning campaign and a plan to include safety and GMP elements in the next design.