Team-Building Experiences

Many people across the world have experienced Human Synergistics International’s team-building exercises. These innovative team activities are based on the concept of synergy—that people working together can achieve better results than they can individually.

The Desert Survival Situation™ is one of our most popular group problem-solving survival simulations. Here are some of our clients’ experiences with the Desert Survival Situation from published periodicals, websites, and books.

Adhocracy “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.” Excerpt from: Adhocracy Robert H. Waterman, Jr.

Cockpit Resource Management “A technique used widely in helping groups to understand the value added from team performance is a classroom exercise designed to demonstrate synergy…. Upon completion of the rankings, both the individual and group rankings are compared to an ordering by experts (desert survival experts). “The parallel between lessons learned from this exercise and those learned in many aircraft accidents is more than casual. The characteristic of the classroom task that results in such predictable outcomes is its high degree of ambiguity to the participants…. Only when we integrate a number of varied experiences are we likely to arrive at a high-quality solution.” Excerpt from: Cockpit Resource Management Earl L. Wiener, Barbara G. Kanki, Robert L. Helmreich

Education for Judgment “I pushed the chemistry desk into the hall (only to be reprimanded later by both the registrar and the janitorial service department), and we began the Desert Survival Exercise that every member of the introductory course had agreed to use in the first class. “I had been skeptical about the exercise, but it worked. The students broke down into small groups to play the roles of survivors of an airplane crash in the desert…. 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. An important lesson that emerged was the need to determine objectives or strategy before allocating materials. Student-survivors who didn’t first figure out whether to signal for help or to walk out of the desert ended up with the wrong mixture of resources. “Students also discovered that decision making in groups, though less efficient, led them to make better choices because of the information exchange, the disagreement, even the conflict in deciding which resources they wanted. Learning to accept and even seek out the intellectual interdependence and to respect conflict as well as cooperation would be a key to making our case discussions work.” Education for Judgment Colleen Burke

Keys to Empowerment “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.”  

Excerpt from: The 3 Keys to Empowerment Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph

Lean Production “One particularly enjoyable and enlightening break-out was an exercise called Desert Survival that consumed the first afternoon…. It simulated an accident in the wilderness that required a small group to rank items of survival equipment, work together to “use” them, and then observe the wisdom or folly of their choices as the simulation proceeded. By comparing individual strategies with team consensus, the exercise graphically demonstrated the value of cooperative collaboration.” Excerpt from: Lean Production John Black

Problem-Based Learning “We intentionally chose a problem with no educational content, the Desert Survival Exercise, to increase the likelihood that students would focus on process, not content. (See Lafferty, J. Clayton & Pond, Alonzo, 1974, for more details on this exercise.) Students were expected to practice the targeted skills as they worked on solving the problem embedded in the Desert Survival Exercise… “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.” Excerpt from: Problem-Based Learning for Administrators Edwin M. Bridges

25 Instruments for Team Building “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. Studies by Human Synergistics, developers of the classic team exercise, the Desert Survival Situation™, demonstrated that teams with good listening skills consistently outperformed teams where the members did not listen to each other.” Excerpt from: 25 Instruments for Team Building Glenn M. Parker

Wharton Magazine “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. “I was happy to tell the director that in fact the program materials for Desert Survival are available in Chinese, but only in traditional Chinese. I was even happier, though, in connection with the meeting, to be able to reread the classic 1993 Harvard Business Review article, “The Discipline of Teams,” by Katzenbach and Smith. “Chinese companies need strong teams, particularly when those teams are multicultural. Nonetheless, no matter what the company’s nationality, teams will play an important role in their success. For this reason, learning how to get teams to function at their maximum effectiveness will be critical for all of us.” Team Building: A Need That Crosses Borders Calvin Sun Wharton Magazine

Zen Entrepreneur “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. “Needless to say, most teams died on the desert! Ours was particularly bad, and my own score was more than particularly bad (though there might have been one person in our whole class who scored worse than I did!). “The trick happened to be the two most important items – I somehow ended up ranking them both last. Our group mostly agreed on our rankings, though we had a few disagreements. One member of our group insisted that the most important item (i won’t tell you which one it is, since you might want to go thru this exercise yourself) was among the most important, we (myself included) didn’t listen to him! Oops! “This situation, one person who is in a minority, disagreeing passionately with the group, who is too far gone to listen, seems to come up again and again.” Rizan Virk Stanford Business: New Study Groups, Philosophy, Desert Survival and Jack Welch. (2008)