A boy climbs the rock wall at Wonder Valley Ranch near Fresno. Wonder Valley offers a number of teambuilding exercises. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz.
On the space station T.I.T.A.N., a group finds itself in the detention bay sector. A robot, identifying itself as “Igor” then informs the group that they have to download the station’s blueprints before the compactor turns on. Around them are a robot, a computer, buttons, cameras and scanners that track their every move.
Except the group is not really in space—they’re in Fresno. And instead of the T.I.T.A.N., they’re actually in Detention Bay, an escape room at Method of Escape. Run by writer and stand-up comedian Johnny Osburn and his partner, illusionist Dexter Morgan, Method of Escape is one of six escape room businesses in the Fresno/Clovis area.
A popular choice for parties and groups of friends alike, escape rooms have also become a popular choice for teambuilding exercises for companies. The reason for this, Osburn said, is because in order to solve the puzzles needed to succeed in the game, cooperation is mandatory, as “you can’t do an escape room by yourself.”
“There has never been an instance where a group of people came in, tried to do one of these rooms, nobody communicated with each other, were just quiet the entire time, and they were successful,” Morgan said.
Another business to find success has been the Fresno Escape Room of Clovis, which is part of a franchise with seven locations across the western United States. Jesus Cisneros, the area manager of the Fresno Escape room, said that one of the reasons escape rooms do well for teambuilding is that employees that usually go unheard may find themselves in the forefront. The result of this is not only the team finding its way out of the room, but the elevation of previously unnoticed problem solvers in the company’s ranks.
“People are starting to notice people in a different way,” Cisneros said. “And the great thing about the escape room with teambuilding is that it really puts everyone in the same playing field.
In order to bring companies together, numerous teambuilding exercises and methods are on the rise. Breaking away from the traditional trust falls and conferences, these include not only escape rooms, but also painting, scavenger hunts, acrobatics, and even flash mobs.
One such business to find teambuilding success in Fresno has been Pinot’s Palette, which is part of a Houston-based chain. Located at 6763 N. Palm Avenue, Pinot’s gives companies the chance to paint together while sampling beer and wine. Different techniques deployed for companies include collaborative and jigsaw paintings—the latter of which consists of different employees each working on a different segment of a painting. By the end of the session, these segments are brought together to form the finished product.
“Most people, when they think of painting, get really nervous, scared…we get that a lot,” said studio assistant Andrea Waters. “And then once they start working together and having to line their pictures up and add a color here to make it work and something that they’re proud of, it seems to really come together.”
Waters elaborated that the teambuilding experience brought out by art comes from being in a more relaxed and loosened environment. This, she said, further allows employers to see their employees in a different light.
However, not everyone is turning to the unorthodox for a bonding experience. Near Fresno, Wonder Valley Ranch is still seeing success with its platform, which includes mazes, blind canoeing, and rope courses. Roy Oken, president and CEO for Wonder Valley, said that companies visit from as far away as Israel to come together.
Like Cisneros, Oken said that through teambuilding, employees that are often overlooked have the opportunity to come out front-and-center to their boss’ attention.
“It might be the janitor of the company that has the best ideas that nobody listens to at work and he’s afraid to say anything,” Oken said. “He’s wondering, ‘why are they doing things that way?’ But he doesn’t feel that he can say anything because he’s a janitor.”
According to Oken, another major takeaway from Wonder Valley’s teambuilding method is to identify problems in the morale of the company, and that there is usually one person working against the goals of the company.
This was the case, he said, with the women’s golf team at Fresno State after their visit to the ranch. When it was found that the team’s best golfer had been a liability to the chemistry of the team, Oken said that the coach dropped her.
“One person can bring the morale of the whole team down,” Oken said. “So this coach took that back and kicked her best golfer off the team—and then they bonded stronger.”