Thursday, January 24, 2008

Diversity and Teamwork

One of the main points of my MountainVision keynote message is the idea that one must put the team ahead of their own aspirations in order to truly acheive success. This is obviously critical and quite fundamental...but in my conversations with several organizational leaders recently, a discussion grew from this concept that proved to be interesting...

The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts or that groups working together can come up with higher solutions than individuals can on their own can be a very challenging concept especially if you are the team leader. As individuals we enjoy being recognized for our education, our status, our seniority. Our academic system rewards individual achievement. Awards and honors, medals and trophies are granted for the efforts of the one. This seems to be even more pronounced in the Gen Y'ers. Teamwork however, is different in that the accolades and credit for achievements are shared equally by all in the group or unit. In order for the sharing of praise to be mutually beneficial to the group each team member must have respect and appreciation for their fellow teammates and a genuine sense of desire for their fellow team members to succeed.

The big question is: how do we create a culture in which individuals from different backgrounds, with different educations and from different levels of society "want" to function together as a group to the mutual success of that group and of the company the group works for?

The answer is in building relationships among the team members. We all have relationships. We may tend to think of relationships with work mates as less important than our personal relationships. However, we will spend one third of our lives with the people we work with. That being the case, it would seem wise to cultivate relationships with those individuals that would be conducive to success both individually and as a collective.

True teamwork culture can be seen when observing children at play who are all about the same age. Most young children have an almost innate sense of community. They share readily (most of the time) and take suggestions from one another without prejudice (most of the time). Give them a bunch of crayons or building toys and they will each contribute to whatever is being done freely. They don't seem to care about the color of their playmates skin, or how much money their parents make or where they live. All that seems to matter is that they are all on the playground or at recess and the object is to have fun. They carry on as if they were one big happy family (albiet there is the ever present conflict and power battle on the playground just as there is in the workplace)

Another name for teamwork culture is "family." There are different kinds of family. What I'm talking about is creating a familial environment through fun, shared experiences that break down the barriers between departments and individuals and release the creative energy that contributes to the success of any organization.

Ultimately, it is not the quality of an organization's products or services that will ensure its success but the loyalty of its workforce to its missions and goals. What are you most loyal to? Is it not to your "friends" and "family?" Who would you rather see succeed? Is it not those individuals you feel closest to, or at least feel some type of connection to? The foregoing is the reason why multi-million dollar organizations are spending literally millions of dollars every year sending their groups to teamwork camps, go through team building exercises or send groups on leadership expeditions with MountainVision. The thrust behind all team building experiences to create a fun relaxed environment in which individuals who perhaps we're not quite as familiar with one another might get to know things about their teammates that would better help them understand the people they work with. Once these fun experiences have been shared by the group it is easier to draw on the good feeling created by those experiences to be more tolerant of a co-workers idiosyncrasies even welcome their sometimes "quirky" view of things. A true teamwork culture values the diversity of its members and regularly draws on that diversity to accomplish its goals. Diversity connects the team.

What kinds of activities can help create this kind of culture? Well, think of what fun did for you when you were a kid. Activities should be a fun learning experience. Experiencial learning has tremendous value and connects teams together. And you don't have to invest millions of dollars to train your people. Family picnics where you play games that bring people together carry only the cost of the food.
MountainVision's Leadership Expeditions. We provide private treks to inspiring and exotic locations around the world where we will facilitate powerful teamwork messages over our evening meals. These discussions will be summarized and sent back to the organizational family where they can be shared and discussed within the entire company. Another powerful way to experience teamwork on a deeper level.

It really comes down to creating a bond that goes beyond the monochromic relationships we often engage in at work. By developing friendships, we create the ability to share and optimize...both at work and at home.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Improv and Teamwork

My brother is an actor living in Brooklyn, NY. He often participates in plays and improv theatrical sessions. We were talking yesterday about how intricate the teamwork principle is when he is performing with an improv group. After a few minutes of discussion, I realized there were some very valuable lessons to be considered I picked up a pen.

Lesson One: It’s not about you. Although you are on the team, it’s never really about you. It’s about making everyone else look good. When you do your part and your intention is to be there for the other team members, then everyone is a star. It’s not your job to get the limelight, to get the last word or deliver the funniest line. It’s your job to make everyone else look good. When you focus on yourself, you do so at the expense of the team.

Lesson Two: Go with the flow. In improv, you never know what the other person will do, so it’s easy to get thrown off guard. When you are caught off guard, the natural response is to resist instead of looking for agreement. When you are used to being in control it’s difficult to let go. If you are in a position of power you are used to planning and facilitating but you forget what it’s like to participate. It’s easy to ask others to step up but when you go with the flow you become a participant instead of the controller.

Lesson Three: Trust is paramount. In order to have a great team you must trust that your team members are there for you. They will rescue you when you stumble, they will catch you when you fall. After all, they also believe in the philosophy that it’s not about them, but it is about making you look good. What goes around comes around. The end result is a great customer experience and in improv the audience is the customer.

Lesson Four: Growth takes courage. In order to learn something new we have to be willing to leave our comfort zone momentarily and that takes the courage to risk. When you believe that everyone on your team has your best interests at heart, and that you will not be judged your capacity for courage is maximized. You can only risk when you have trust, when you have learned to go with the flow, you let go of judgment, and when you’ve been on the giving and receiving end of the philosophy that “it isn’t about you."

Its striking how similar these messages are for so many of the companies and organizations I speak to regularly. The truth is...these themes are applicable in every aspect of our lives, both professionally and privately.

Thanks bro!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Passing Of The Man Who Paved The Way

Certain historical adventurers will always remain on the upper tier of those that embody the true essence of world seekers...

Ernest Shackleton , Reinhold Messner, Leif Erickson, Robert E. Peary, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are some of my favorites, simply based on the level of commitment that each of them took to achieve their objective.

However, the man that I have the most sentimental connection to is the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary who passed away today at the age of 88.

I met Sir Hillary in New Zealand a few years ago. Once I overcame my initial nervous, star struck sensation, I found Sir Hillary to be exceptionally congenial and downright sweet. He signed the New Zealand $5 note which bears his image and upon returning home I had my new autographed Kiwi dollar bill framed and hung with pride on my office wall.

The man who shared the Everest summit with Sir Hillary, Tenzing Norgay passed away in 1986.

As the two of them approached the summit of Everest they encountered a rocky buttress a mere 20 minutes from the top. This would prove to be a crucial move of the last part of the ascent, the 40-foot (12 m) rock face later named the "Hillary Step". Hillary saw a means to wedge his way up a crack in the face between the rock wall and ice, and Tenzing followed.
The remarkable thing about this section is when the expedition ws studying all of the reconnaissance photos prior to the ascent, no one had seen this formidable obstacle. I feel that this section would have turned around a lesser couple of men. Instead, these guys just fired up it. I thought of him as I was flailing myself that same section of rock.

They reached the summit at 11:30 am. As Hillary put it, "A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top." They spent only about 15 minutes at the summit and forged the way for the rest of us for generations.

A legend.
7/20/19 - 1/11/08

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Those Birds Are Friends

I feel that I am learning as much from my 2 and 1/2 year old little boy as he is from me. He continues to astound me with his insight and wit.

Yesterday we watched as a flock of geese flew in formation over our backyard. After a few seconds of Dad's commentary, my son said in his toddler speak, "Those birds are flying together because they are friends."

Exactly...friends that need each other to get where they are going.

When you see geese flying along in "V" formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in "V" formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone - and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are headed the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south. Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

For those road cycling enthusiasts…this is an obvious tactic for the Peleton...even among competitors.

What messages do we give when we honk from behind? Finally - and this is important - when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group.If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

Oh the insight of a 2 and 1/2 year old.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Thinking Big

The idea of climbing Mount Everest came to us slowly. In the years after we finally scaled Aconcagua, we kept looking around the globe for new challenges. We didn’t have a checklist or a specific dream we were looking to fulfill, we just never felt like we were finished. Along the way, we’d picked up the idea of finishing the seven summits, the highest points on each of the continents. In addition to Denali and Aconcagua, we’d completed Kilimanjaro in Africa and Elbrus in Russia. There was one glaring exception, which happened to be the highest in the world.

Erik and I got together in May of 2000 to try and find the next adventure. We both agreed we’d accomplished some big things, but now we wanted to do something outrageous, something no one thought we could finish. This time, there was no doubt as to where we’d go. There was only one place, one peak, one summit that would satisfy us-- Everest.

Of course we were familiar with the mountain. As climbers we’d read all the books and seen all the movies. We had friends and acquaintances who’d tried the mountain and even a few that
had made it to the top. But could we realistically give it a go?

We poured ourselves into the task of learning more about it. We talked about all the technical and logistical difficulties we’d face, along with problems we probably hadn’t even thought of that were bound to pop up. In the end, we decided we wouldn’t be able to forgive ourselves if we didn’t at least give it a try.

To embark upon an Everest expedition is a massively expensive undertaking. Flights, gear, Sherpa assistance, and especially permits from the Nepali government are all heavy costs. Just to get there and back would cost more than most families spend on a home. We knew that in order to raise the kind of sponsorship money we’d need, we’d have to go public with our goal.

We also knew the moment we did, there would be no shortage of people telling us it was a bad idea, and we weren’t disappointed.

Within a matter of days, a small army of outspoken doubters came out of the woodwork. Many well-known Everest experts went on the record saying it was foolish and dangerous to try to take a blind man to the world’s highest point. Many suggested, either subtly or directly, that Erik would almost certainly die, and possibly the rest of the team as well. They said we didn’t realize what we were in for and, while we’d had some success, this would be impossible. They pointed out most sighted climbers couldn’t make it to the top. They went on and on, publicly and privately. Erik and I must have heard a thousand reasons why it wouldn’t work. We listened to their concerns, but we didn’t agree. After all we’d been through together, there just wasn’t room for their disbelief. They were experts on Everest, but they weren’t experts
on us.

Because we believed in ourselves, we found others who believed in us, too. It began with our families and friends, who pitched in from the start with emotional support and encouragement.
From there, it spread to others who heard about our ambitions. One by one, climbers signed on to be a part of our team. Major sponsors, some of whom had never worked with us before, lined
up behind us. Many had never funded a climbing expedition, but they pledged their money to help us do the impossible.

In the end, I think the support we got from everyone who helped us was worth much more than the money and gear they gave. We didn’t want to rest on our past success. To go further and higher, we needed to surround ourselves with people who weren’t afraid to do something that seemed impossible. They shared our vision to send a blind man to the top of the world.

We’d set a huge goal for ourselves, and if we were going to fail, it was going to be on the way to the top of the world, not at home thinking about it.