Mountain climbing is a passion for many, but for one elite group of climbers, only the 14 highest peaks in the world will do. This means they attempt to scale mountains like Everest, Annapurna, Kilimanjaro and the most challenging of them all—K2.
Although Everest is taller, K2 has the second highest mortality rate of all the so-called eight-thousanders, a group of 14 peaks that reach or exceed 8,000 meters above sea level. While more than 4,000 climbers have scaled the summit of Everest, less than 400 have reached the summit of K2 and those who have, haven’t done it alone. The climbing of this jagged-peaked mountain dotted with glaciers involves many technical challenges that far exceed the capabilities of most climbers. Without a team to help carry equipment, guide climbers and cook meals, reaching the summit would likely be impossible.
Teamwork is an important aspect in our desire to advance both at work and in our hobbies. In a Harvard Business Review article titled: Harnessing the Power of Teamwork, the author revealed that seasoned business leaders, “…look for people who are able to move beyond an understanding of how to be personally powerful, and embrace the ability to support others. The key to embodying this quality on the job isn’t just thinking about how to motivate or advance others. It’s about experiencing situations with them that foster a spirit of trust.”
While working at one’s job usually isn’t exactly as physically taxing as climbing K2, these activities do have one thing in common: they all require the work of a team to ensure success. This is something we’re often taught during team building activities and something I was reminded of recently.
After attending a Blue Cross Blue Shield conference in San Diego, 32 of us attended a Navy Seal boot camp on Coronado Island. We were paired into two teams of 16. Teams were then broken up into 4 boat crews of similar heights. Overall, this “light” boot camp was a great experience, giving us a small insight into what our servicemen and women go through during initiation.
There was the usual physical training (PT) during which we were told we were too hot (cool off and get into ocean) and then too clean (roll in the sand), and then too dirty (get back into the ocean). There were team obstacle races, memory games, log drills, runs, cold ocean work and more—all starting at 5:30 a.m. So why was I not in my comfortable hotel bed at that early hour? Because it was fun and once I started, I didn’t want to let my team or myself down.
Finishing the boot camp was something I couldn’t have done on my own, but having teammates didn’t give me an automatic pass. I still had to learn to work with those teammates in the same way K2 climbers must work with theirs and you must work with yours. Here are some lessons I learned while at the boot camp.
Help, encourage and trust your teammates.
It was a lot easier to reach a consensus and align our goals with our smaller boat crew first. While racing and carrying a log overhead, the first thing we did was to try and assess how we could best help each other carry the weight. We knew we needed to step in time so we would not trip on each other. Walter, an ex-Marine would call out the steps from the rear. During the race, another teammate’s shoulder became very sore due to a recent operation. I moved forward to take his weight. We stayed positive, encouraged each other and we ended up beating the young guys.
Communicate, establish a shared vision.
It was a little hard at first to communicate, as none of us knew each other, but we knew that the sooner we could communicate the sooner we’d have an advantage. Together we decided what the core mission was and everyone’s role, so the team could succeed. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of goals when faced with challenges or obstacles. Whether your objective is supporting your team by linking arms and sitting in the ocean while being pounded by waves or implementing software or obtaining market share, a shared vision will keep the team focused and on track.
Be flexible, keep it fun and stay warm.
You might have a plan but be ready to make adjustments at any time. Just when we thought we understood a drill, our instructors would make it a little more interesting. Todd, the teammate with the sore shoulder, got our boat crew singing during our runs. I encouraged our crew to hug to stay warm when many began to shiver from the cold-water drills. Together as a team we finished the boot camp. There were some that gave up or got hurt. They grabbed a doughnut and a coffee and left. But we hung in there breaking the boot camp activities down into one task at a time—and we got through each of those “one tasks” together.
All of us will inevitably have our own mountains to climb and oceans to cross. Yet regardless of the landscape, we will likely require the help of others to reach our destination. Through the power of positive teamwork we can harness skills beyond our own and achieve success we might not otherwise see.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned while working with a team?