What You Can Learn From Survivor2011-06-07T20:27:17+00:00

Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. If you know this motto, then you’re probably among the millions of people around the world who watch Survivor.

It’s easy to see the attraction of Survivor. Here’s the key: select a range of easy-to-recognize stereotypes such as:

  • the macho, cool guy who has the same middle name as Austin “Danger” Powers
  • the loner who needs nobody’s help and is nobody’s friend
  • the nice person who reminds people of their favorite relative
  • the sexy guy who is a knight in shining armor to damsels, alpha male threat to dudes
  • the sexy gal who is a princess to posturing knights, to rival princesses
  • the misfit–annoying, slow, fat, uncool, or–horrors!–just old

Next, drop them all into some exotic locale, then announce that the last one standing wins one million clams. Yes, $1 million.

That kind of money can make people do some crazy things, like backstab, claw, scratch, connive–you know, the stuff that makes reality TV so entertaining!

But ask anybody who’s been in really stressful situations–even life-and-death scenarios–and you’re likely to hear that real life is not like that. People look for leaders to help coordinate efforts to maximize everyone’s chances. Good leaders gather input from everybody to ensure all options are weighed and explored. They must be careful to avoid being too heavy handed so that nobody is alienated in an already tough situation. Very few can do it all alone, and safety in numbers and in group effort represents a kind of insurance against additional mishap.

Fortunately, most of us don’t face such stressful situations at work on a daily basis. But the best managers and the best teams achieve success the same way. Managers don’t necessarily want just one “winner” pulling the rest of the team. Managers want to share best practices from their top performers so that everybody on the team can learn, grow and contribute to the team’s success. It is also in each individual contributor’s best interest to expand skillsets and to add value to the team. Therefore top performing managers and teams share trust, knowledge and success, quite unlike the teams/tribes you see in Survivor.

An excellent way to build such team traits comes from team-building exercises outside the workplace environment. Confronting novel challenges require innovative solutions that spur teamwork and creative thinking. After each challenge is successfully resolved, team debriefs reveal how each member contributed, building leadership skills, confidence and trust. These benefits carry over into the workplace and have a lasting positive effect. Just consider how your own tough experiences have helped you grow and build strong relationships, such as serving in the military, attending camps, or traveling a long distance with your wife and your father- and mother-in-law.

So the next time you watch Survivor, think of what not to do in your own team-building efforts. Maybe you’ll even adopt a new motto: Grow. Succeed. Together.

And write to me with your favorite team-building experiences or how you came up with your own team motto. I’d love to hear from you!

Article contributed by Sam Shiek who is a web producer and a prolific writer, who is based in United States.