Development

J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D. (1928-1997), Founder of Human Synergistics International

J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D.A pioneer in the psychology of achievement and human effectiveness, Dr. J. Clayton Lafferty founded Human Synergistics in 1971 to provide organizations and consultants with research-based materials for individual, leadership, and team development. Dr. Lafferty’s background in clinical psychology, both practical and theoretical, and his knowledge of organization and leadership in ancient and modern cultures, provided him a broad and unique perspective for addressing the problems facing contemporary businesses, managers, and society in general.

He and his associates researched and developed a multi-level series of diagnostic instruments—focusing on self-assessment, achievement thinking, and responsible decision making—that encourage effective personal and leadership behavior. Perhaps the best-known diagnostic is the Circumplex-based Life Styles Inventory, measuring individual thinking and behavioral styles. In 1970, along with Patrick Eady and Alonzo W. Pond, Dr. Lafferty also developed the Desert Survival Situation, the innovative team-building simulation demonstrating synergy, which has since evolved into one of the most widely used training tools in the world.

Dr. Lafferty attended Hillsdale College and earned his doctorate in psychology from the University of Michigan. He received numerous awards, most notably the 1983 American Society for Training and Development Award for Excellence in Professional Competency for his work with a Fortune 500 company. Dr. Lafferty was also listed as an honored member in the 1991 edition of U.S. Registry’s “Who’s Who in Leading American Executives.” He was a member of the American and the Michigan Psychological Associations (serving as President of W.P.O.), the American Management Association, and the American Society for Training and Development.

Dr. Lafferty passed away in 1997, but his dedication to creating materials and programs that promote excellence in organizations has earned him an enduring international reputation. With the support of Human Synergistics International, Dr. Lorraine Lafferty established the J. Clayton Lafferty Chair in Leadership with the Dow Leadership Center at Hillsdale College in honor of her late husband.

Expert Consultant

Alonzo W. Pond, M.A., is the former chief of the Desert Branch of the Arctic, Desert, Tropic Information Center of the Air Force University at Maxwell Air Force base. During World War II, Mr. Pond spent considerable time working with the Allied Forces in the Sahara on desert survival problems. He has traveled to deserts across the country, living with people of nearly every desert in the world. Mr. Pond is the author of several books on survival training, including Survival and Peoples of the Desert.

An outstanding way to prove the point that teams outperform individuals is to engage people in an exercise like Desert Survival… The teams almost always outperform the individuals and, if they do not, the reason can usually be traced to poor functioning of the team.

Listening costs money because it is time consuming. However, in the end it saves money because mistakes are corrected, potential problems are avoided, and more creative and cost-effective solutions are generated. …the Desert Survival Situation, demonstrated that teams with good listening skills consistently outperformed teams where the members did not listen to each other.

Finally, the best thinking very often results from a team effort. With few exceptions, repeated research has established that groups are usually better than individuals at solving problems where no one has deep or relevant experience…. A forceful example is an exercise called the Desert Survival Situation.

A technique used widely in helping groups to understand the value added from team performance is a classroom exercise designed to demonstrate synergy…. The parallel between lessons learned from this exercise and those learned in many aircraft accidents is more than casual.

I had been skeptical about the exercise, but it worked…. It turned out to be a particularly appropriate exercise for the first day, as it came so close to some of our real survival emotions.

In the afternoon, we divided into our old study groups and had to face the highlight of our trip to Half Moon Bay, a group test: The Desert Survival scenario.

Students discover through this exercise that applying the interaction method, the problem-solving process, and the various tools presents much more of a challenge than they had expected. Their realization stimulates them to work on mastering this material during the succeeding projects.

I met recently with the executive director of a U.S. association that works with CEOs of Chinese companies as they seek to become listed on U.S. stock exchanges.  We discussed my law practice and my time in China teaching law at Tsinghua University, but he was most interested in my experience with Desert Survival, the classic teambuilding exercise. He said that a real need for this type of skill existed within Chinese companies.

By comparing individual strategies with team consensus, the exercise graphically demonstrated the value of cooperative collaboration.

Human Synergistics International thanks trainers, practitioners, consultants, and educators across the globe for making our team-building simulations the most widely used and acclaimed in the world.

Team-Building Simulations from Human Synergistics

When Human Synergistics first introduced the Desert Survival Situation™, our clients could not get enough of this innovative team activity based on the concept of synergy—that is, people working together can achieve better results than they can individually. The Desert Survival Situation has become one of the most widely-used team-building activities in the world and has served as the model for other numerous other exercises used for training and development internationally.

Human Synergistics’ team-building simulations provide a unique opportunity to quickly and objectively measure whether your teams are achieving synergy. They are designed for team building, developing more constructive group processes, and demonstrating the impact of communication and collaboration on solution effectiveness. HSI offers a wide variety of team-building simulations in four series.

The Business Series
  • Project Planning Situation™
  • Meeting Effectiveness Situation™
  • Customer Complaint Situation™
  • Envisioning a Culture for Quality™
  • Cultural Change Situation™
  • Turnaround™
  • Coach – Co-achieving


Visit Human Synergistics’ website for more information.

All of HSI’s team-building simulations can be administered using a Leader’s Guide and one Participant’s Booklet for each group member.

Please note that all HSI simulation materials are copyrighted and may not be reproduced.
The Challenge Series
  • Organizational Change Challenge™
  • Critical Thinking Challenge™
  • Ethical Decision Challenge™
  • Constructive Negotiations Challenge™
  • Strategic Planning Challenge™
  • Performance Management Challenge™
  • Project Management Challenge™


Visit Human Synergistics’ website for more information.

All of HSI’s team-building simulations can be administered using a Leader’s Guide and one Participant’s Booklet for each group member.

Please note that all HSI simulation materials are copyrighted and may not be reproduced.
The Safety Series
  • Fire Safety Situation™
  • Back Injury Safety Situation™
  • Tornado Safety Situation™


Visit Human Synergistics’ website for more information.

All of HSI’s team-building simulations can be administered using a Leader’s Guide and one Participant’s Booklet for each group member.

Please note that all HSI simulation materials are copyrighted and may not be reproduced.
The Survival Series
  • Desert Survival Situation™
  • Desert II Survival Situation™
  • Bushfire Survival Situation™
  • Reef Survival Situation™
  • Tsunami Survival Situation™
  • Subarctic Survival Situation™
  • Cascades Survival Situation™
  • Earthquake Survival Situation™


Visit Human Synergistics’ website for more information.

All of HSI’s team-building simulations can be administered using a Leader’s Guide and one Participant’s Booklet for each group member. Some simulations have optional DVDs, which bring the situation to life by showing the outdoor scenario followed by the expert’s ranking and rationale.

Please note that all HSI simulation materials are copyrighted and may not be reproduced.