For 10 years I have been sharing insights with organisations, helping to produce better teams and better leaders. A common dilemma as a leader is how to get a group of focused, highly competitive individuals to see the benefits of cooperation and collaboration.
Leading commercial trips to giant Himalayan peaks and making bold first ascents of the world’s notorious mountains with my peers have both forced me to address issues affecting teamwork – sometimes in life and death situations.
Why is teamwork important?
A lack of collaboration and poor communication can prevent a team realizing its full potential. A culture where valuable information or best practices are shared will increase a team’s performance.
We need to be reminded that we are all in this together and it will be safer and easier if we work as a team.
Three core elements of a high performance team
In my experience, there are three core elements that lead to teamwork success.
- Everyone must want to climb this mountain.
- Everyone must be able to trust each other and recognize the benefits of pulling together.
- Everyone must understand that the journey could be arduous and that we may have to adapt our plan in view of changing conditions.
Inspiring and motivational leadership
A good leader will provide a vision and motivate the team to buy into it.
In a mountain setting weather and snow conditions can change rapidly. You cannot bury your head in sand. You must accept reality, and a resilient team will learn to expect and accept change.
Having a victim mentality where people blame their predicament on forces beyond their control, can dramatically limit a team’s performance.
What are good leadership qualities?
On 8000 metres high Shishapangma we got 14 people to the summit and back down safely.
As a leader you need integrity. The team realized that I ‘walked the talk’. I was clear and open about our strategy for climbing the peak.
To build trust among a disparate group of individuals I encouraged people to speak to me about any problems, physical or social.
I recognized effort and commitment and showed people I valued it. A few words of thanks can really bolster confidence and strengthen the team as a whole.
Trust, loyalty and hard work
A small team of people reaching a Himalayan summit is often the result of hard work by many, many people. Basecamp staff, support climbers, porters, finance, equipment manufacturers, not to mention friends and family at home.
You must appreciate the contribution and sacrifice of everyone involved.
As a coalminer I learnt that to be successful in a high stress environment there is no place for selfishness. Am I reliable and trustworthy? Can I rely on my team-mates? It takes effort to build trust and loyalty among a team, but it is a potent force.
Building team ties through communication
On a mountain it is often the discussions at basecamp in the evenings where strong bonds develop. Good rapport with co-team members is the life-blood of any team. This allows the asking of difficult but important questions. Face-to-face communication strengthens team ties. In the corporate setting events bringing team members together can be a real investment. Allowing people to communicate on a more personal level allows a sense of ‘trust’ and ‘togetherness’ to flourish.