From sport and science production to everyday life, higher-level pursuits demand collaboration. Despite an increase in the number of data-driven studies on human behavior, the social dynamics of collaborative problem solving are still largely unexplored with network science and other computational and quantitative tools. Here we introduce escape rooms as a non-interventional and minimally biased social laboratory, which allows us to capture at a high resolution real-time communications in small project teams. Our analysis portrays a nuanced picture of different dimensions of social dynamics. We reveal how socio-demographic characteristics impact problem solving and the importance of prior relationships for enhanced interactions. We extract key conversation rules from motif analysis and discuss turn-usurping gendered behavior, a phenomenon particularly strong in male-dominated teams. We investigate the temporal evolution of signed and group interactions, finding that a minimum level of tense communication might be beneficial for collective problem solving, and revealing differences in the behavior of successful and failed teams. Our work unveils the innovative potential of escape rooms to study teams in their complexity, contributing to a deeper understanding of the micro-dynamics of collaborative team processes.