During an exercise or war game there will often occur a key decision point when it becomes necessary or more time efficient to break out some of the participants into a separate smaller group, often called a “breakout group.”


This small group can be very effective in obtaining a comprehensive view of a problem, situation, or likely solution that include a variety of viewpoints. Additionally, there may be times when multiple small groups are formed to address various questions or issues. In the case of multiple small groups, various approaches can be applied during the breakout session.

Onbreakoute approach is for each breakout group to be charged with discussing and answering a specific key question or issue that will aid in the formation of an action plan related to the goals and objectives of the exercise. A second approach is to charge each breakout group with addressing the same issue and then bring them back together where each group reports and discusses their respective findings. While it is true that much in each of the breakout group’s report will be similar, it is our experience that there will also be some significant differences and the joint discussions following each group’s brief out adds to the richness of the exercise.

Related:  VIDEO – Exercise Process

An added benefit of using breakout group(s) during an exercise is that attendees are more actively involved and likely to retain more information once the event is over. It also offers the opportunity for many of the quieter participants, who may feel intimidated by a larger group, to become more actively involved in the exercise.

Don Estes

Don Estes

Donald Estes has over 20 years of experience conducting research, analysis, and war gaming support to the Department of Defense, DHS, other government agencies and commercial clients. During a distinguished career as a naval officer in military intelligence, Mr. Estes held the Military Chair of Intelligence and was a professor in Joint Military Operations at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. In his tours of duty at the Naval War College, and more recently as leader of the Sonalysts Team conducting war games and tabletop exercise, Mr. Estes has been involved in designing, executing, and analysis of more than 150 games/workshops, and experiments examining concepts for the deployment of military forces, and continuity of operations for DHS, FEMA, and other government operations. In recent years, he has conducted games for large corporations to develop strategies and plans included examination of emerging or disruptive technology, crisis communications, corporate decision-making, and continuity of operations.