It is hard to believe it has been nine years since my summit of Mount Everest. Time sure flies when you are having fun. Even after nine years Everest still has a magical hold on me and a special place in my life. Everest has given me so much.
I never imagined I would climb Everest one day. I knew as a climber that is was out of my league. However, as I gained more experience my comfort zone expanded and I thought that perhaps it was worthy of a try.
After a failure on the 6th highest mountain in the world (Cho Oyu) in 2001 I put a lot of learning into future expeditions. Although I did not summit Cho Oyu, it became one of the greatest learning experiences of my life as failure often does (to those that are open to it anyway). We had failed due to a dysfunctional selfish team culture driven by an egocentric and abusive leader. We were not a team and we did not trust, support, communicate or collaborate with one another. Even though we had the skills, experience and fitness this was not enough to overcome the dysfunctional team environment and we failed miserably.
After Cho Oyu, I applied my team and leadership learning to several other mountains and after many successes, I thought I was ready for Everest.
In 2008 I went to Everest with my climbing buddy Angus and three others I did not know. We worked hard to build strong, trusting, supportive relationships because I knew that relationship was the foundation of a high-performance team.
Our original plan was to climb Everest via the North Col from Tibet, but due to circumstances beyond our control our permit was cancelled and the border into Tibet was closed to foreigners. We had to relocate our climb to Nepal which was a huge change for us and caused much anxiety and stress.
We worked hard to overcome this initial challenge and made our way to base camp to begin our ascent. However, international politics were not done with us yet. Again for circumstances beyond our control the military occupied the mountain and enforced severe restrictions upon all climbers, dictated when we could and could not climb, where we could go and they even confiscated all our video cameras and satellite phones. Anyone who rebelled was arrested and deported from the country.
To make a long story short, this was just the beginning of the challenges we were to face individually and as a team. We fought our way up the mountain through numbing temperatures, avalanches, wind storms and more and eventually on May 20 we were hunkered down on the South Col in our Camp 4.
We were now entering the Death Zone for the final push to the summit. We left camp at 8:30pm on May 21 and climbed steadily through the night. And a beautiful night it was. A cloudless sky, a bright full moon (so bright I did not need my headlamp on), and relatively warm temperatures with a light wind. There was a bit of a crowd that day with many very slow climbers in front of me. Passing is not really an option so patience was the word of the day. We passed various famous landmarks on our way to the top; The Balcony, The South Summit and the Hillary Step.
At 8:15am on May 21 I stood on the highest point on earth, let out a sigh of relief, smiled and cried. It was an amazing accomplishment, but I was only half way. Going up is harder, but going down is more painful. As your adrenaline levels drop the pain seeps in to fill the void. Going down is also very dangerous with a high percentage of deaths occurring on the way down.
We made it back to base camp May 23 and then started our journey back home to family and friends. What am amazing journey it had been.
Everest taught me a lot about myself, about team building, about leadership, goal setting, overcoming the challenge and so much more. I have gone on to use much of this in our Team Development and Team Building programs at Summit Team Building and especially in my keynote presentations.
I am fortunate to have such a great story to share from Everest and my training and academic background allow me to translate my experience into learning opportunities for others. I will deliver over 30 keynotes in 2017 to audiences around the globe.
I want to thank Angus, Alan, Ryan and Al for making this incredible journey with me.
Here at Summit Team Building we always say that relationship is the foundation of any high-performance team. After all, we don’t do things for each other because we have to, but rather because we want to.
So the key is to build a team of people that know, understand, trust, and support one another. This cannot happen virtually and takes time and many interactions. This is why the company dinner, the company picnic and other company events are so important.
As a leader, you need to look at formal and informal team building strategies to build your team. The dinner, team picnic, bowling and other similar events are informal team building and help to reinforce relationships.
The formal team building takes place in professionally run team building workshops or training sessions. It is in these facilitated sessions that team members truly begin to understand one another’s motivators, as well as their communication, problem-solving, and decision-making styles to name but a few things.
Therefore, as a leader, you need to build in a mix of team building opportunities throughout the year. Some formal and some informal.
Team building activities are a simple way for people to build positive relationships in the workplace. In carefully-structured team building activities, people share success, have fun, and begin (or continue) to build a common, positive history together. They connect with each other.
Team building activities don’t need to be sophisticated … and certainly shouldn’t be hockey … but they must promote positive social interaction and be satisfying for the participants while keeping them in an emotionally “safe place”. Keeping it emotionally safe is what makes the difference between team building activities that elicit eye rolls and those that result in full participation, smiles and laughter.
What feels emotionally safe to one person may feel completely outside the comfort zone of another. It’s important to know the individuals on your team and to ensure that, in any team building activity you select, people can choose how to participate.
Here are a few things that we, at Summit, consider in our approach to team building:
- We structure team building activities so that they offer a number of roles with varying degrees of physical activity and personal “exposure”. Many quiet people will be quite happy to participate in the background and let the extroverts go wild if they know they won’t be pressured to do the same.
- When we organise big team building activities (say, several hundred people) we make sure people interact in small sub-groups for large parts of the program. This allows the introverts to develop a few deeper, more comfortable relationships away from the chaos.
- We know that lightly physical team-building activity can work very well. But once again, we’re all adults now, not kids. We always make sure that success does not require the fitness of an Olympian.
- We also know that people like to contribute to society. We have designed several team building activities that focus on the act of “giving back”, locally and internationally.
Good team building activities bring people together for a few hours of fun and result in lasting relationships. And that’s priceless.
Check out all our team building activities here
In the previous blog, I wrote about the power of failure to be an amazing teacher provided your mind, heart and eyes are open to the lessons available. Failure often produces very strong and not always favourable emotions. These emotions can block our ability to learn from failure. As a result one of the first steps in learning from failure is to give yourself some time for the emotions to stabilise. Then you can examine the event in depth and pluck out the learning and the applications to future challenges. This takes a certain level of emotional intelligence to accomplish.
This learning process is what is called the Experiential Learning Cycle. This method of learning involves three basic steps. Experience, Analysis, and Application. In order for there to be learning there needs to be an event or an experience. This can be something you were personally involved in, something you observed, or event something you read about. Next, you need to analyse what took place and look for the learning. Bring in relevant models and research to help you see clearly and make your own conclusions as it relates to your goals and challenges. Lastly, you need to figure out how to apply what you have learned in a practical and realistic way. You can follow the simple steps of What, So What and Now What.
As you may recall from my last blog I had failed to climb one of the world’s tallest mountains. Well, it was not just me, but it was my entire team of highly experienced mountaineer partners. Partner and team are not really the right words as we were neither. For various reasons every person there, myself included was focused on person success only. This was the result of a very dysfunctional team environment that had formed within our group. Trust, support, compassion, empathy, and teamwork were replaced by selfishness, mistrust, gatekeeping, conflict, and ego.
In the end, this devastating experience became one of the greatest teachers of my life and I used this experience to go on and summit Mount Everest on my first attempt and to complete many other arduous adventures.
Patrick Lencioni helped me to crystalize my learning in his book 5 Dysfunctions of Team. Through my personal experiences and the desire to focus on the positive, I developed my High-Performance Team Model.
I believe the foundation of all high-performance teams is RELATIONSHIP. We need to get to know and understand our fellow teammates as well as to bond with them emotionally. After all, I always say “we do not do things for each other because we HAVE to, we do things for each other because we WANT to”. And this is based on positive relationships.
This relationship foundation is the root of building TRUST as trust comes from positive experiences with others.
This trust allows us to COMMUNICATE openly and honestly. If we trust one another I will ask the stupid question, I will disagree with you, and I will express my opinions event if they are not shared by the rest of the team. This allows us all to express ourselves fully and to discuss and debate the issue at hand. Without trust I will keep my mouth shut and although the team will appear supportive and committed it is really a mask hiding tension just below the surface.
Only once we have communicated openly and honestly will we be able to truly COMMIT to a team vision, action or decision. It is through this open dialogue that we listen to one another and formulate our plans. As Stephen Covey writes in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People “seek first to understand, and then to be understood”.
Only through true and real commitment can we achieve ACCOUNTABILITY. Accountability of one’s self and accountability by others is critical for follow through. In an accountable team, we feel safe to follow up on each other’s actions and commitments and this is seen as supportive rather than threatening.
Although simple in principle, this model is not always simple to implement. It takes strong leadership to bring it to life, but after all, that is what leadership’s most important job it; to build high performance within individuals and in teams.
At Summit Team Building we use this model in our Team Development and Leadership Development training programs.
When looking for advice on building high performance we often look to successful people, successful events, and successful companies. However, don’t overlook the study of failure as this can be a great teacher. Obviously, it can teach us what not to do, but with analysis and contemplation, we can develop positive strategies from what happened.
One of my greatest learning opportunities was during an expedition to climb one of the world’s tallest mountains. The expedition environment, as I say in my keynote presentations, is a very rich learning environment provided that your eyes and mind are open to see it.
When I was climbing Everest there was a researcher from Harvard sharing our basecamp. He was conducting a study for NASA on conflict resolution techniques to be used with astronauts on the International Space Station. The theory was that high altitude climbers live in a similar world to astronauts on the ISS. High altitude expeditions are filled with danger, complexity, strong and often ego-driven personalities, intense pressure and stress and constant change. It is difficult to study astronauts, but climbers are more accessible. By observing these climbers and interviewing them they were digging into human behaviour in this unique environment and taking stock of what worked and what did not work when conflict arose.
My story of learning from conflict comes from a mountain not far from Everest. It is one of the 14 mountains in the world above 8000m and climbing it requires entering the accurately named “Death Zone”. A dramatic title for sure, but it is exactly what it says it is. If you venture into the Death Zone for too long you will die. And too long it not long at all, it is 2-4 days and lights out!
I joined a team of highly experienced and strong climbers all who had a strong passion for climbing and all who wanted to summit this mountain. I had never met any of these people in the past, but this is not uncommon in climbing and in life. We do not always get to choose our teammates but are often just assembled a team of strangers with similar skills and desires. When looking at our resumes we were the perfect team and success should come to us with no problem. However, it did not work out this way.
In the end, not a single person made it to the summit and it had nothing to do with bad weather, lack of skill or experience, or desire. We failed because we were not able to work together as a team. At the time this was devastation, but when I look back upon this expedition now I see it as one of the biggest learning experiences of my life and it was the event that taught me to look for learning in success AND failure.
For various reasons that I won’t get into here, we became a group of selfish strangers. We never really got to know and bond with one another and each person’s focus was on their personal success. Yes we all wanted the entire team to succeed and nobody want anyone of us to be injured or killed, but if only one person were to be successful it was to be “ME”. This very selfish environment fostered a lack of trust and this stifled communication. There was, therefore, no commitment and accountability.
In the end, I used this experience to formulate many of the ideas, theories and strategies we use today in our team development and team building programs, and it is a cornerstone of my keynote.
In the next blog, I will share one of the models I have developed as a result of this failure and it is this model that is critical for building high performance in teams.
Many of us aspire to be leaders, but do we want to be a leader for the right reason? To determine if someone wants to be a leader for the right reason one needs to consider the various mix of intrinsic and extrinsic factors.
With the role and title of leader usually comes various perks such as a bigger pay cheque, bonus opportunities, an office with windows, a reserved parking spot, and sometimes even a new car. These are external factors we call motivators. A motivator is something that gets us to do something for a reward. It is the reward or punishment. The carrot or the stick. External motivators are powerful and necessary and usually play to our ego. The make us feel good and important and provide us with power. The challenge with external motivators is that they will only take a person so far. We all have our limit and will say “I will not do that regardless of how much you pay me, or “I will not do that regardless of how much you punish me”.
Internal factors, however, are much more powerful and long lasting. These internal factors are intrinsic in nature, meaning they come from within. One does something not because of punishment of reward, but because they want to. Someone who is intrinsically motivated will walk through fire to accomplish what they set out to do. They are far more willing to endure hardship and personal sacrifice.
So when you think about being a leader are you doing it for the motivating or inspiring factors. Of course there is a combination of both, but you need to make sure you understand the difference and have a mix of both.
Those leaders that are only leaders for motivational reasons are very self-serving in nature. They are not there for the good of the company, customer or team member, but for the betterment of their own personal world. They will often do whatever is necessary to get ahead including placing the blame for failure on others and taking credit for work that others have done. They will also only be willing to work to a certain level of performance.
Those leaders who are leaders for intrinsic factors truly want to serve their customer and their team members. Their number one priority is the completion of the task and the service of their customer. The do it because they want to, not because they have to.
Sometimes the leader who is intrinsically focused will take on the role of the servant leader. Their sole focus is to serve their team and their customer. As a servant there are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team and to do whatever is required for everyone involved to be successful.
To decide why you are a leader requires some sole searching. You need to look at why you are doing something and if all the external motivators were removed (pay, ego enhancement, perks) would you still do it? For most of us, unless you are running your own entrepreneurial business or working in the not-for-profit sector, a certain element of external motivators is required, but if that is the only reason you do it you might be feeling unfulfilled in life. There must be some intrinsic factors involved for you to really do your best work. You need to believe in what you are doing and see the value to yourself, your customers, your community and to the world in some cases.
So the next time you are considering a leadership opportunity you need to think about why you might do it. Are you taking the role for the title of leader and the associated perks or because you truly want to be a leader of people.
In the Summit Team Building Leadership Development workshop we can help you identify your leadership drivers and values and your leadership style so you can be the best leader possible.
Summit Team Building is excited to announce our newest Team Development program; Engineered Strong. Over the years we have heard from many project teams telling us about all the challenges they face regarding communication, decision making, accountability, conflict and more. Well, we listened and have developed a program specifically to help project teams form and to avoid many of the common challenges associated with partners from multiple teams, departments, and companies working together. This team development workshop is specifically designed to get project teams started on the right foot.
Most project teams are a diverse assembly of people from various departments and, frequently, different organizations. There is potential strength in this diversity of skills and perspectives if the team can tap into their members’ differences in a constructive way. However, there are great challenges in doing so. Stakeholders may have unclear roles and competing agendas and priorities. Leadership, accountability, meeting processes and communications are often unclear. Constructive differences can spiral into destructive conflicts and decisions can be painful or impossible. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Your project may have a small budget or one in the multi-millions. It may have a 3-month or 3-year timeline. However, if you invest in a solid team foundation with “Engineered Strong”, you will see the return when you need it most.
How it Works
At Summit we are team development specialists and have been helping teams form and perform for almost 20 years. We have engineered this workshop specifically for the complexity of diverse project teams.
The overall goal of the workshop is to help your project team develop and agree upon a common destination and a clear path forward. Throughout the workshop, team members develop patterns of successful interactions as they face challenges together. The fun and engaging challenges build relationships and highlight different team skills, such as trust-building, communications, decision-making, conflict management and change management. Mental models and tools are presented for each topic area. The group’s learning is carried forward as the workshop progresses so that they finish with a group charter and set of behavioral norms that are based on common experience and consensus.
Although there are common elements to each workshop, yours will be customized to meet the needs of your project team. The end product of the workshop is to have a team charter that defines the expectations and interaction norms for the team. Each team member will sign this document and it will be used throughout the project to guide all interactions throughout the project. Woven throughout the session will be various learning modules and experiential activities that make the session fun, engaging, insightful and educational for the participants.
By the end of the workshop, stakeholders will:
- Have strong interpersonal relationships based on mutual trust
- Be committed to the same goals
- Share common expectations around leadership, roles, meetings, communication, decision making and conflict resolution.
- Have tools, such as a Team Charter and a set of Norms, to hold one another accountable for their behaviours and actions.