How the Desert Survival Situation™ Works

Compare Individual versus Group Performance

The Desert Survival Situation™ requires participants to solve a specific problem in a limited period of time—first individually and then as a team. As participants work together in this team-building activity, they will draw upon their experiences and knowledge in search of the best answers. They are challenged to successfully integrate the expertise of all group members. By comparing individual and team solutions to the recommended solution, participants can see whether, as a group, they were able to achieve synergy by taking advantage of what each member had to offer.

Strengthen Synergistic Problem-Solving Skills

As members work to complete the Desert Survival Situation, they begin to see their own role in shaping the quality of the team’s performance. This understanding deepens as the simulation is scored and the impact of group processes on performance is discussed. Equipped with these insights, members can decide what they can do to enhance the team’s functioning—and get the results the team needs to succeed and make effective decisions.

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.