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In any team, there are varying personalities, often making team-building a complex journey. Among the myriad available approaches to building effective and higher-performing teams, we encourage you to give team-building survival scenarios a try.

Survival scenarios use unique and immersive circumstances to elevate teamwork, reveal natural tendencies, and demonstrate leadership skills. Although they are run in groups, these team-building activities can be introspective journeys that allow individuals to gain insights into their own skills and areas for improvement as well as the strengths and pitfalls of their team members.

Why Choose a Survival Scenario as a Team-Building Exercise?

Survival scenarios offer an immersive learning experience focused on creating greater levels of team effectiveness. Compared to traditional team-building exercises, participants are challenged to put their professional skills to use through a unique experience:

  • Team members are placed in high-stress situations. This helps them learn how they respond to stress and, more importantly, helps them identify ways to be productive and work with others constructively even when they’re under stress.
  • Survival scenarios nurture skills necessary for teamwork. Team members learn about their own and their peers’ strengths and weaknesses and how these elements impact decision-making, communication, collaboration, and trust (among others).
  • As individuals navigate the challenges of a survival scenario, people’s natural preferences, styles, and tendencies emerge. This team-building intervention provides insights into different leadership styles and how team dynamics (e.g., relationships, communication patterns) affect the leadership style a person adopts.

Just like in business, survival matters! These scenarios are great at helping individuals and organizations see and reflect on how their behaviors ultimately impact team members, results, productivity, and profitability (survival).

—Emily Hodgson Soule, Senior Director of Program Design and Development

The Top Benefits of a Team-Building Survival Scenario

A survival scenario mirrors real-world challenges that teams may face in the workplace. The skills it fosters can translate into practical applications in the business world, helping professionals constructively handle challenges they encounter at work.


A survival scenario requires team members to make use of their problem-solving skills in a context that is unique but still analogous to the workplace. This can help team members identify skills and strategies they can use to overcome problems and challenges at work.

Furthermore, because personality conflicts will likely arise during the survival scenario, exercises of this type provide a great way to identify any interpersonal discord that may negatively affect the decision-making process:

  • Current team challenges that need to be addressed
  • Team dynamics
  • Team-member roles and responsibilities
  • Communication styles
  • Destructive inter-team conflict

Handling Pressure

Survival scenarios place group members into stressful, uncomfortable situations. These scenarios can mirror the stress and pressure that often arise in a workplace environment, affording team members and leaders an opportunity to learn how each individual responds to pressure.

While some individuals may exhibit resilience, adaptability, and effective problem-solving, others may shut down, lash out, or struggle to achieve success. Either way, the exercise can help team members gain greater self-awareness and strengthen their coping skills.

Innovative Thinking

Team-building seminars that include scenarios such as the Arctic Survival activity force individuals to think outside of the box.

For example, in the Arctic Survival scenario, individuals and teams rank the value of salvaged items according to what they think will offer them the best chance of survival. Considering how to rank their available resources as a team will encourage everyone to brainstorm as a group and tap into their collective creativity and resourcefulness. If done well, this exercise will strengthen both innovative thinking and teamwork, as each member will contribute unique insights toward a common goal.

Effective Communication

If team members are unable to communicate effectively, this is a point worth noting and addressing in the workplace; there can be a number of different reasons why this may be the case. While some team members may feel confident in voicing their ideas and concerns, others may not be so forthcoming. This is a chance for group members to flex various leadership qualities and communication styles to increase the psychological safety on the team and ensure that everyone feels included. Additionally, this process can cultivate trust among team members—key to unlocking survival success.


By creating a list of core values with their assigned teams, group members will be tested on how well they adapt to these collective values. Observing how each person perceives and embodies the values will be instructive for the team and should fuel rich conversation and reflection following the exercise.

Alternatively, if there is a values clash, this may cause frustration or conflict among team members, providing yet another opportunity to evaluate teamwork effectiveness and problem-solving skills.

How to Assess Your Team During a Survival Scenario

Immediately after you’ve run a team-building survival scenario, we encourage you to debrief with the group. You can tailor your debrief discussion according to the topics you need to address. Facilitating a discussion around these types of questions will help you to gain insights into your team’s dynamics, strengths, and areas for improvement:


  • How effectively was information communicated within the team?
  • How actively did team members listen to each other?
  • How did people make their needs known or ideas heard? Were certain voices being elevated or ignored?


  • What signs of resistance or lack of cooperation did you notice within the team? Why did this occur?
  • In what ways did team members leverage each other’s strengths?

Leadership Emergence

  • In what ways did natural leaders emerge within the team?
  • How did these leaders influence and guide the group?
  • How was leadership distributed, or was it concentrated in one or a few individuals?
  • What leadership qualities seemed to be valued by this group during this exercise? In what ways is that reflective of the expectations of your organization?

Problem-Solving Skills

  • How creatively did the team approach and solve challenges?
  • How did team members adapt their problem-solving strategies based on changing circumstances?

Resource Allocation

  • How were team-member responsibilities distributed?
  • Were resources being used optimally to achieve team goals?

Reflection and Learning

  • How reflective is the team in analyzing its performance during and after challenges?
  • What insights can be drawn from the team’s experiences?
  • What mechanisms are in place for continuous improvement based on the lessons learned here?

Leverage the Right High-Performance Teamwork Resources

Building a high-performing team requires intentionality and ongoing effort. By carefully selecting and utilizing the right resources, you can foster a collaborative environment rooted in mutual respect.

We encourage you to start with CMOE. Our High-Performance Teamwork workshop offers experience-based training on a variety of teamwork skills to help teams achieve and sustain high performance.

Reach out to us for additional survival simulations.