Team Management Systems

Lessons from Antarctica: Applying the Types of Work Wheel to bridge the 'knowing to doing' gap

By Ian Gillies
Copyright © Ian Gillies. All rights reserved.

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The Douglas Mawson Antarctic Expedition of 1912 is one of the most amazing feats of endurance of all time. Although his two companions perished, Douglas Mawson survived, but how?

In a bold historical experiment South Australian adventurer Tim Jarvis retraced Mawson's grueling experience with the same meager rations, primitive clothing and equipment. Tim, joined by John Stoukalo who completed part of the trek, attempted to uncover what happened to Mawson physically and mentally - as a man hanging on the verge of life and death.

The adventure

Tim Jarvis is a remarkable person; a charismatic man whose interests in the world and its environment are combined with a powerful inner need to discover and push his personal limits. He has walked solo to the South Pole faster than any man in history and can be found trekking in steaming jungles, climbing mountains in India or working on development projects in remote areas for charitable organizations. Tim is a visionary with a big heart and an even bigger passion to challenge and educate influential leaders about climate change and the environment.

Fuelled by a burning curiosity and a desire to tell a largely untold story of extraordinary polar survival, Tim Jarvis and his team spent months sourcing old clothing and replica equipment, such as sleeping bags, reindeer boots, beaver-pelted gloves, an old stove, knife, spoons and antique ice axes. He even had food made to the exact specifications of Mawson's original supplies.

Tim's vision was to test Mawson's account of his journey in 1912 by recreating his experience. Film Australia sponsored the project by making a world class film for Australian and international audiences. While the film crew accompanied the adventurers, they maintained their distance as Tim and John Stoukalo experienced 100 kilometer snow blizzards, isolation, starvation, frost bite and self-doubt.

Tim Jarvis

Covering a distance of 1,350 kilometers, Tim lost 17 kilograms on his 47 day world-record trip, which was the same number of days as Mawson's 1912 journey.

Survival in Antarctica

While Tim says the experience affected him in ways he could never imagine, it also gave him significant insights into his own ability to handle challenges daily. He became more aware of his vulnerabilities and experienced what collaborative leadership truly means. "It was very, very, hard indeed, physically, psychologically and emotionally", Tim says.

Using the Types of Work Wheel to challenge mindsets

Now that some time has passed, Tim Jarvis and I have viewed the project as a powerful metaphor for how organizations or individuals cope and survive, or not, under pressure at work.

As part of several coaching sessions I facilitated prior to his expedition, Tim completed a Team Management Profile (TMP) and, incredibly, Tim the explorer/adventurer showed strong preferences as an Explorer-Promoter (Extrovert 17, Creative 12, Beliefs 12, and Structured 1). Exploring the percentage distribution for each of the Types of Work functions provided Tim with a clear appreciation and guide to the many challenges he faced in planning and implementing the Mawson expedition.

His strong preferences for Promoting 28% and Innovating 21% posed numerous challenges during the planning of the expedition. In particular, the need to collaborate and influence senior decision-makers for funding and support who did not share his vision and had quite different expectations from the project. Tim's low preferences for Organizing 6%, Producing 10% and Inspecting 3%, which were critical to the success of the project, created frustration and his impatience with detail was occasionally felt by most of his support crew, friends and family.

The self-awareness provided by the Team Management Profile highlighted Tim's single-minded approach to achieving his goals and, at times, his tendency to impose his decisions upon others. The Profile also supported Tim's personal preferences for spending a lot of time gathering information and using a collaborative approach to decision-making. He had to manage his almost obsessive tendency to express his creative talents and pursue his personal vision.

Visionary leadership

Tim Jarvis is a visionary leader who, during the expedition, was able to model many of the traits required of leaders in business:

  • Continually promoting an inspiring vision
  • Clarifying milestones and sharing decision-making
  • Strong personal values
  • Build empowering relationships
  • Initiate innovative action

Tim's ability to balance his 'big picture' thinking with chunking of critical short-term, and sometimes daily, tasks were significant factors in the expedition's success. Indeed, Tim and John Stoukalo eventually divided tasks on a daily basis. Tim developed a willingness to 'slow down' and try things out which was John's preference.

Tim's consistent and excellent communication of his passion and vision were critical to balance the agendas of a group of talented but different people and to inspire them to make team goals their own. Tim had to weave many complex and competing factors together into a plan to accomplish the overall goal. He maintains the goal (the 'What') was achieved because his vision/purpose (the 'Why') was so strong and motivating. In his darkest moments of self-doubt he continually focused on 'Why' he had to achieve his goal. The 'How' became easier as the 'Why' became stronger. A great lesson for any business coach to reinforce with their coachees!

In the Antarctic, survival meant having enough air to breathe to keep blood circulating to the brain and staying warm enough to avoid frost bite and hypothermia. The quality of the personal interactions and decision-making between Tim and John and the film crew were the key to the successful outcome. Similarly, in business, leaders need to understand the organization's core survival functions and investment in promoting leadership and collaboration skills.

Leaders must promote their vision with passion. When an individual's personal goals negate the business goals, planning may become ineffective and relationships can be dysfunctional. This is a constant challenge for collaborative leadership and a leader's vision is absolutely necessary to guide and motivate. Vision without action is useless and action without vision is directionless!

Moving from 'knowing to doing'

A measure of Tim's success was attributed to his collaborative leadership style, challenging his existing mindset and his ability to reframe his thinking and to try new behaviors. The model below helped Tim to appreciate his strong preferences as reflected in his Team Management Profile and helped him 'reframe' his thinking (mindset) and to challenge his least preferred roles.

Learning to Learn

Good coaching encourages leaders to identify their lack of work preferences and learn to manage them and also to identify their work preference strengths and build on them. The Team Management Systems suite of instruments is a powerful resource to support the process of Learning to Learn by challenging and changing mindsets.

Effective coaching helps the coachee to identify:

  • What is the current mindset that is shaping your thinking?
  • What can you do to challenge these mindsets?
  • How do your feelings and emotions drive your mindsets?
  • What are some of your colleagues' mindsets that you might adopt and use?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities in exploring new mindsets?

In their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action, Pfeiffer and Sutton suggest the gap between 'Knowing-Doing' costs organizations billions of dollars annually in training, consulting and professional development fees. They suggest the most destructive aspect of the Knowing-Doing gap, is the substitution of talking for taking the right action by most managers.

Many Team Management Systems accredited consultants may have experienced this gap when having introduced the Team Management Profile, received rave reviews and then find that the new knowledge is not translated into action. There may be little or no follow-up to bridge the gap from understanding and valuing preferences to the commitment of building skills and influencing behaviors.

Challenging the mindset

"Knowing is about pleasure and being is about happiness and they are as far apart as you choose them to be." - Tim Jarvis

Tim Jarvis challenged his mindset daily during his Mawson expedition. He was able to overcome his fear of the unknown by becoming excited about what he had done well each day and how he could do even better tomorrow. Tim suggests he reframed (my word not his) his thinking continually, seeing problems as opportunities in disguise and turning fears into challenges. Fearing the new, the different, the unpredictable and falling back to what he had always done was not an option for Tim. "One cannot learn without making mistakes, telling the truth about them and moving on.", Tim says.

In his book, Mawson: Life and Death in Antarctica, Tim tells of his struggle to overcome extreme isolation, physical deprivation and his own self doubt. He makes several strong connections with the key roles of business leaders i.e. in crisis situations people's fight or flight instincts will cloud their judgment unless the leader:

  • Can instill a strong sense of vision and establish buy-in
  • Can provide new insights to work through the dilemma and keep moving towards the vision
  • Can model collaborative leadership by understanding and using personal strengths and lack of preferences.
  • Can motivate action towards opportunities and challenges through 'rich conversations' with colleagues

Like Tim, many business leaders no longer have the option of 'thinking old and doing old'. They need to bridge the gap from 'thinking new and doing old' to 'thinking new and doing new.' Tim did this as a matter of his personal survival. Is it any different for today's leaders?

Could he have completed Mawson's tragic expedition alone? The answer is no. Could he have made it without continually reflecting and reframing the 'Knowing-Doing-Being' learning journey? The answer is no.

Copyright © Ian Gillies. All rights reserved.

Ian Gillies specializes in creating total organizational performance with private and public sector organizations by developing high-performing teams. Ian has over 10 years experience in facilitating teamwork and consulting to organizations to develop a language of teams. As part of a training team, he has accredited some 400 human resource consultants in the Team Management System suite of instruments throughout Australia, UK and Hong Kong. He has successfully introduced a team-based philosophy using Team Management Systems into BHP, General Motors, Prolift Toyota, Cadbury Schweppes, Santos and numerous Federal and State Government Departments. For further information or to contact Ian, please visit

Tim Jarvis is an environmental scientist, explorer, film maker and author of The Unforgiving Minute and Mawson: Life and Death in Antarctica. Tim has used his personal experiences as a consultant to the business sector and government on climate change and the environment. For further information or to contact Tim, please visit

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