Games Index
Team Building

Survival Scenario Exercise

Description of a Group Dynamics Team Building Exercise

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Overview - Group Survival Scenario Exercise

  • A classic group communication and decision making exercise, with many variations.
  • Works for a wide variety of ages and purposes, indoors or outdoors.
  • Consensus can be hard to reach, however, set the aim for all participants to at least partially agree to each ranking on their final list.
  • Encourage groups to complete the task without the use of tactics such as voting, trading in or averaging.
  • Watch for participants avoiding conflict or changing their minds simply to come to agreement. Highlight these kinds of behaviors in the debrief.
  • An important outcome of this exercise can be learning that sometimes a bit of give and take is necessary in order to move forwards to a solution.
  • Watch for over emphasis by some participants on needing 100% accurate answers. Steer the group towards the aim of the exercise which is heightening awareness of communication and decision making processes, rather than over emphasis on 'getting the answers exactly right'. Display of this need is a point of observation and one worthy of debrief.
  • There are two classic types of "paper & pencil" group survival scenarios (selecting equipment and selecting people).  In each case:
    • Provide instructions & hand out materials
    • Set a time limit (~15-30 minutes)
    • Let the group go - answer questions, watch, & observe!
    • Debrief

Scenario Type 1: Choose Survival Equipment

Your plane crashed...your group needs to choose the 12 most useful items to survive...

Choose / rank equipment items in terms of their relative survival value:

  • Participants choose/rank the items individually
  • Discuss choices/rankings in small group and come to a group consensus
  • Score answers against "expert" opinion
  • Possible scenarios:
    • Lost at sea or island survival (shipwreck)
    • Desert (plane crash)
    • Space or Moon

Scenario Type 2: People Survival Scenario (Who will be saved?)

A nuclear bomb has been dropped...a radiation-free shelter is available, but can only take 6 people; choose who will survive...

Choose / rank people in terms of who will get to live or die in situations with limited survival resources:

  • Participants role play characters (a bit like a Murder Mystery)
  • Survival Scenario Exercise - Lost at SeaCan lead to high emotions; people get intensely engaged, particularly when choosing who will survive, and none of the decisions are easy.
  • No right answers - any so-called "correct" answers are based on debatable values (e.g., ageism, sexism, racism)
  • Highlights individual's dispositions, group processes and decision making
  • Possible scenarios:
    • Plane crash survivors
    • Nuclear war shelter
    • Oxygen dwindling (space, moon, mars)
    • Lifeboat / Sinking ship (sea)


  • Appoint a time keeper in each group and encourage them to be the person who monitors the progress of the group towards achieving consensus within the time frame.
  • To emphasise individual versus group decision making, split the session into three parts:
    • Individuals make their own selections first, on paper (5-10 minutes)
    • Groups (or sub-groups) then discuss and create a group decision
    • Compare individual and group performances, e.g.,:
      • For equipment scenarios, group decisions are usually more accurate than individual answers, helping to illustrate the importance of collaborative group decision-making.
      • For people scenarios, score individuals according to how close the group's decision was to their own selections of who is to live and die (an indicator of each person's influence over the group).


    Possible Debrief Questions

    • How were decisions made?
    • Who influenced the decisions and how?
    • How could better decisions have been made?
    • Did people listen to each other? if not why not?
    • What roles did group members adopt?
    • How was conflict managed?
    • What kinds of behavior helped or hindered the group?
    • How did people feel about the decisions?
    • How satisfied was each person with the decision (ask each participant to rate his / her satisfaction out of 10, then obtain a group average and compare / discuss with other groups' satisfaction levels)
    • What have you learnt about the functioning of this group?
    • How would you do the activity differently if you were asked to do it again?
    • What situations at work/home/school do you think are like this exercise?


    Caveman meets Modern Camper by Frik, 2003
    Caveman meets Modern Camper by Frik, 2003

    Related Links


  • Scenario briefing (1 per group)
  • List of items/people (1 per person and/or visuals per group)
  • Expert list (number optional)
  • Free downloads listed below


  • A classic group communication & decision making exercise.  People get intensely engaged because the "survival stakes" are high and none of the decisions are easy.  Works for a wide variety of ages and purposes, indoors or outdoors.

Group Size

  • 5-10


  • Total ~45-100 mins
  • 5-10 minutes briefing
  • 15-30 minutes exercise time
  • 5-10 minutes scoring (for select equipment scenarios)
  • 20-30 minutes debrief & discussion

Survival Scenarios (free)

Choose Equipment Scenarios

  • Plane Crash & Winter Survival Simulation Game
    (classic rank 15 survival items exercise)
  • Lost at Sea 
    (short description and facilitation notes; includes description of Lost in the Desert with items list but no answers)
  • Lost at Sea[.pdf]
    (description of the activity with worksheets and US Coast guard answers)
  • Lost at Sea[.pdf]
    (description plus research and academic generic theory and debriefing material)
  • Lost at Sea[.pdf]
    (medium-level detail with rationale)
  • Lost at Sea
    (Rather long document but excellent facilitation notes for team building and complete scoring notes for detailed analysis of individual and sub group scores of 4 activities including Lost at Sea and Wilderness Survival)
  • Survival on the Moon
    Teachers notes for 9th grade exercise in Earth Sciences
  • Survival on the Moon Exercise-excellent activity with worksheet & NASA rationale with answers

Choose People Scenarios

Complex Scenarios

  • Wilderness Survival
    (involves 12 multiple choice questions about what to do in survival situations; work individually and then in groups, receiving points for good decisions)
  • Island Survival
    (indepth, elaborate scenario and scoring for longer scenario exercise; well explained for school settings)
  • Westward Ho!

Survival Scenarios (paid)

Last updated:
12 Oct 2009