01 Jun 2016
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Escape from Alcatraz

And other ways to build a strong team, Boda Borg–style
Re: Matt DuPlessie (MBA 2003)
by April White

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Illustration by Noah MacMillan

The first challenge of Boda Borg is describing it. The Swedish company—headed by president and CEO David Spigner (MBA 1987) and imported to the United States by Chad Ellis (MBA 1998)—offers indoor “questing.” Teams of three to five people navigate groups of mental and physical challenges with names like Alcatraz, Superbanan, and the Jungle. If you break a rule—and there is no rule book—or run out of time, you have to start over. The Boda Borg experience is often described as the feeling of being the main character in your own video game. But Ellis has another comparison: The Boda Borg experience is the feeling of running a business.

“You are solving unfamiliar problems that require collaboration, brainstorming, and experimentation. It’s a lot like what you do in the work environment,” says Ellis, who opened the first Boda Borg in the United States in Malden, a suburb of Boston, last year. (Matt DuPlessie [MBA 2003] is a minority owner; his company, 5 Wits, constructed some of the quests.)

Boda Borg Boston is designed first and foremost to be fun—with 17 quests and counting in 30,000 square feet and an all-you-can-eat taco bar—but local businesses have already discovered that it can also be a learning experience for professional teams, requiring real teamwork to advance through obstacle courses and solve absurd puzzles. It can take 10 to 20 or more tries to successfully complete a single quest.

A team that solves all the quests earns the title of Questmaster—something that not even Ellis has accomplished. And that’s not the point, he says: “Having a team that fails over and over again together on the way to success is really valuable, because the team builds confidence in each other and in their ability to fail and still be seen as contributing. They shake off the idea that failure is always a bad thing.”

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