Teaching Problem Solving Skills through
Outdoor Survival Team Building

Outdoor team building based on survival techniques can be a great method for teaching problem solving skills to employees and executives.

Outdoor survival team building can be a half or full day activity close to home. Here, the focus is usually on skill development and team interaction and collaboration.

A more extreme version is a team building weekend, where teams are taken to unfamiliar territory in the bush or mountains, and forced to depend on each other to survive.

This is often a popular choice for executive team building, because it can test high-level strategy and coping skills. Managers need to find ways to work together under pressure and in stressful or uncomfortable situations.

Photo courtesy of A Day in the Country

Team building companies offering this type of outdoor team building usually focus on teaching problem solving skills through some core survival skills such as:

  1. Navigation
  2. Producing Fire
  3. Creating Shelter
  4. Finding Food and Water

Navigation Skills

Navigation involves using analytic abilities, evaluating options and making decisions. In the outdoor environment, you can't rely on a computer dashboard tool telling you to 'turn left in 500 metres'!

Basic map and compass reading or more high-tech use of GPS navigation equipment is typically taught.

And then the team is let loose on a tame or difficult
navigational challenge.

It may be as simple as requiring the teams to use navigation skills to get to and from the team building venue. Determining the right route/path often requires good planning and communication among members of the team.

Producing Fire

survival skills 013

I used to love family camping adventures when I was a child, so making a fire isn't that big a deal to me. Although it is a skill I haven't used in a while!

But for many people who grew up in cities, or with family who weren't fans of the great outdoors, making a fire for heat and cooking can be a novel experience.

A 'build a fire challenge' is a great multi-team activity. It can be harder than it looks. So having a facilitator on hand who is good at teaching problem solving skills might be important!

If the materials to hand include wet wood and no matches - or you're on a team building weekend stranded in the middle of nowhere without direct support - it's even more challenging! Raw potatoes anyone?

Building Shelters and Catching Food

If lost in the outdoors, creating shelter is necessary for survival, protecting you from weather conditions, wildlife and climate conditions (whether that might be extreme heat in central Australia or hypothermia in other parts of the world).

So survival skill team building often involves a practical shelter building exercise.  Building a shelter involves resourcefulness in finding materials and teamwork in constructing the structure. 

The team building activity can be set up to require greater or lesser degrees of creativity.  It can focus specifically on teaching problem solving skills, or can require team members to resolve issues without guidance.  It all depends on what your objectives for the activity are.

Outdoor team building companies can also often offer lessons in finding food and water sources for survival in the outdoors.

survival skills 019

Benefits of Survival Team Building

By its nature, this kind of team building places people in unfamiliar situations. This requires them to work together in different ways. It can emphasise the positive traits of each member of the group, as teams discover hidden talents within their colleagues.

This team building can also have positive outcomes for individual employee development. If the activity results in a sense of discovering previously unknown skills, it can result in increased self-esteem and knowledge of their worth within the team.

Things to Think About

  1. Safety needs to be a high priority for any outdoor team building.

    • Check the track record of the team building company … and their insurance cover.
    • Companies who specialize in outdoor team building activities are probably best.
  2. If teaching problem solving skills is your goal:

    • find out the credentials of your facilitator.
    • Do they have specific skills in this area?
  3. Uncomfortable situations can also give rise to team conflict as people come up against barriers they don’t usually face. If it's well managed, this can be positive for individual and team growth, but it could be destructive if not handled well. So think about the potential for this in your team, and have a strategy ready to deal with it.

  4. Check exactly how the activity will work for the size of your group.

    • This type of activity works better with small groups.
    • However, some team building companies offering survival skills team building can manage groups of 100+ by splitting the group into smaller teams.
    • More 'guides' will be needed though, so make sure enough support staff will be available to make your outdoor survival team building a success.

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