Monday, December 15, 2008 by Dave Blum
As Owner of a company that creates corporate team building activities, I get my team building ideas from a variety of sources:  books, articles, movies, pop culture, and yes, television.  You can see, why, then, I’d be such a Survivor addict.  For much of its ~16-week running time, Survivor is quite simply the best team building show on tv.  Think about it.

In The Wisdom of Teams (1993, Harper Business, pg. 45), Katzenbach and Smith offer a useful description:  “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

And on Survivor, at least for a while, that’s exactly what you have — “tribes” who:

1) Are relatively small in number (eight members at the beginning, less as it goes along).
2) Possess adequate levels of complementary skills.
3) Agree on a common purpose (stay healthy, stay strong, win challenges).
4) Adhere to a group approach (work hard, compete hard, get along).
5) Commit to achieving performance goals.
6) Enforce a sense of mutual, enforceable accountability (mess up and you’re out).

If Survivor maintained its tight-knit, collaborative, tribe structure over the entire season, I’d probably have all my students watch the show as a model of team behavior.  But of course, things change on Survivor.  About half way through the season, the tribes come together and merge, morphing the game into a cut-throat, everyone-for-themself exercise in alliance-building, double-crosses and deceit; wonderful television, to be sure — not-so-great as team building exercises.

[Spoiler alert: if you taped last night’s Survivor finale, skip the following section!]


This year’s Survivor season came to an end yesterday evening with three unlikely finalists:  Sugar (the pin-up model), Suzie (the hairdresser/mom) and Bob, the 57-year-old physics teacher.  In a close vote, Bob took home the million-dollar prize, employing a strategy that consisted of:

1) Staying under the radar
2) Being a useful outdoorsman
3) Staying like-able
4) Winning challenges
To his credit, Bob managed to preserve his integrity thoughout — a rarity.  (The winner usually lies and cheats his/her way to the title, garnering enmity along the way.)

So kudos to Bob Crowley:  A team player when appropriate; a classy guy overall in a very doggy-eat-dog environment.  I think we can all learn a team building lesson or two from him, namely:

1) Be authentic.  (If people feel you’re putting on an act in Survivor, they’ll vote you off in a second.)
2) Be humble  (Pride and arrogance will assuredly get your torch snuffed.)
3) Enjoy the journey  (You always got the feeling Bob didn’t particularly care about winning the $1,000,000; he just wanted to stay on the show longer and have more experiences.)

For more on past Survivor seasons, check out my newsletter article:
“TV’s Survivor: Out-Sneak, Out-Greed, Out Team?”

**What are your conclusions from this season’s Survivor?