Climb Every Mountain

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Could you survive a plane crash in the mountains in a remote, frigid region with nothing but your ingenuity, resourcefulness, and a few items retrieved from the wreckage of the plane? (and you thought your week was off to a bad start?!)


I’m talking about the Mountain Survival Challenge. If you haven’t experienced this, it is one of the more challenging and memorable group exercises I have been part of. The basic premise is that each group is given a list of items that they have scrounged up after surviving a plane crash. The list of items is usually pretty random stuff: a compass, a knife, a child’s toy, etc. The group is then given a time limit within which they are to rank the items in order of importance for their survival. Sound easy enough so far?

Well, here’s the twist: after each group has ranked their items, they are given an answer key that has the items ranked by survival experts. The groups then see how close they were to the “right” rankings, and give themselves a score accordingly. The group with the lowest score (i.e., the least deviation from the expert list) is declared the winner.

Having done this exercise a few times, I have found that the conversation that ensues is invariably marked by different opinions about why a particular item is useful, which items might be red herrings, and what the priorities for survival are. This exercise also brings out certain aspects of people’s personalities: those who think they know it all (I’m looking at you, former Eagle Scouts), those who argue strongly for their opinions, and others who just go along with the consensus.

Each time I have done this, I have learned something about myself and those in my group. For example, I’ve discovered that I’m generally the peacemaker in the group who tries to keep the discussion moving forward in a civil fashion. And I’ve learned a bit about what it takes to survive in the frozen tundra--not that I’m ready to put those lessons into practice or anything (I like it just fine here in my cozy office, thank you very much).

What have your experiences been with group activities along these lines? What memorable group exercises have you been part of? What was good/bad about them? I would love to hear from you, so please take a moment to leave a comment.