The following is adapted from “How to use problem-solving simulations to improve knowledge, skills, and teamwork”, by J. Szumal, 2000, in M. Silberman and P. Philips (Eds.), The 2000 Team and Organization Development Sourcebook (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill). Adapted with permission.
One of the great advantages of group problem-solving simulations is that they make the abstract concept of synergy more concrete and tangible by enabling participants to quantify and compare individual versus group performance. In turn, examining the patterns that emerge in simulation performance scores across teams can be an important step in helping participants to understand that synergy is not easily achieved.
The bar chart shown below displays the patterns in performance observed with 388 groups that completed one of six different problem-solving simulations.
With all six simulations, almost all of the groups outperformed their average individual member. Across all six of the simulations, at least some of the groups outperformed their best member and achieved synergy. However, with five of the six simulations, fewer than half of the groups were able to outperform their best member and achieve synergy. (With the sixth simulation, exactly half of the groups outperformed their best member and achieved synergy.)
Similarly, if you were to ask participants how many groups in their organizations outperform their average individual member, they’d probably say “over half.” If you asked them how many groups in their organization outperform their best member, (and achieve synergy), they’d probably say “less than half.” The simulation scores illustrate that, just as in most organizations, groups do not automatically achieve synergy. Yet synergy is what most managers expect when they ask people to work as a group or team. Regardless of the type of problem or the setting, the achievement of synergy depends on the quality of the interactions between group members. This is why using simulations such as the Desert Survival Situation to learn, analyze, and practice the mechanics of group problem solving can be such a valuable approach to developing more effective groups and teams within organizations.
More research findings are available in the Subarctic Survival Situation™ Leader’s Guide.
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?
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.
Rob Walker, Rosenbluth Rodeo, Fast Company
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.
Mark Tufenkjian, Survival Simulations, Success 101
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.
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.