The Desert Survival Team Building Exercise

Desert Survival Situation™

Research and development by J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., in consultation with Alonzo W. Pond, Survival Expert

Unlock the secret of team synergy with one of the most widely used exercises for team building and group development in the world.

The Desert Survival Situation is now available in both paper and digital format and is great for building new teams, enhancing team development, and improving problem-solving and decision-making skills.

Do your teams have what it takes to survive?

Get a Demo of the Digital Desert Survival Situation

The new digital format of the desert survival scenario is similar to that of Subarctic. Both of these digital simulations can be used for virtual as well as in-person team-building sessions.

The Desert Situation

“It is approximately 10 o’clock in the morning on a mid-August day and you have just crash-landed in the Sonoran Desert in the southwestern United States.”

Your task is to rank 15 items salvaged from the plane in the order of their importance to your team’s survival.” In the desert survival exercise, the plane crash is imagined, but the need for problem-solving is very real.

Situated in an unfamiliar location, the desert survival plane crash scenario sets the stage for a team-building activity that  takes the participants outside of their organizational roles and areas of expertise. The simulation transports them to a situation where only their synergistic problem-solving skills–task, interpersonal, and rational–will help them to survive.

“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

How does the desert survival scenario work?

The Desert Survival Situation provides a unique opportunity to quickly and objectively measure whether your groups are achieving synergy. Synergy occurs when the interactive efforts of two or more people produce a solution that is superior to their independent solutions. The Desert Survival Situation is perfect for demonstrating this elusive concept.

By measuring the quality of both individual and team performance on the task of ranking the 15 items, groups are able to quickly calculate the extent to which they fully utilized their skills and resources–and did  so in a way that achieved synergy and enhanced team development.

“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.

What are the benefits for your organization?

  • Demonstrates the need to increase commitment to team building and team development.
  • Establishes a constructive, team-oriented atmosphere in the workplace, at conferences or workshops, and in classrooms or training programs.
  • Serves as a platform for team-building initiatives designed to strengthen members’ rational and interpersonal problem-solving skills.
  • Emphasizes the need for and promotes participation and synergy within groups.

Make the Desert Survival Situation Part of Your Team-building Initiative

We offer two options:

  • A trained and experienced Human Synergistics process consultant can facilitate the Desert Survival Situation for you. Simply contact us to find the right consultant for your organization.
  • Or ‘do it yourself.’ Receive all the information and tools necessary for a member of your organization to facilitate the exercise and lead the team-building experience.

The Desert Survival Situation is available in paper and digital format and takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours to complete.