How the Subarctic Survival Situation Works

Compare Individual versus Group Performance

The Subarctic 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 team synergy by taking advantage of what each member had to offer.

Strengthen Synergistic Problem-Solving Skills

As members work to complete the Subarctic 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.

Is improving leadership really as simple as maximizing extroversion? Empirical evidence is actually far more mixed than the HBS curriculum might lead one to believe. For example, in one team-building exercise at HBS [Harvard Business School], students engage in a role-playing game called the Subarctic Survival Situation.

Why a simulation?

  • ‘Because wisdom cannot be told.’
  • Action/involvement is vital to how people learn. (We learn by doing.)

The most memorable example of the power of teamwork in solving problems was from an exercise I participated in over 16 years ago. It was such a compelling lesson about teams solving problems, I still have the exercise booklet. The exercise is from a company called Human Synergistics and was a ‘Subarctic Survival Situation’.

I would recommend this experiment highly. It does a great job of showing how to improve team work and communication. It is also a great way to get to know your team better!

Lesson: If you don’t have the expertise, figure out who does; if you do have the expertise, say so. Communicate or die.

To be honest, I also thought the Subarctic Exercise was quite instructive…

I have found that the sub-arctic survival simulation is fun and naturally encourages student participation. Students learn that in order to ‘survive,’ they must cooperate and support one another, that the collective is greater than the individual, and that teamwork is necessary for enhancing their success in their academic and professional careers.

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

The Subarctic Survival Situation is one of our most popular group problem-solving survival exercises. Developed by Dr. J. Clayton Lafferty and his colleagues, the simulation places participants in an isolated area of northern Canada where their plane has just crash landed and challenges them to rank, first individually and then as a team, 15 salvaged items in order of their importance to their survival.

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.