Team Management Systems

Team Dynamics: Dhaulagiri Report

By Bob Killip
Copyright © Bob Killip. All rights reserved.

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Summitting on a mountain is probably the most important part of a climbing expedition. Another measure of success is that the members come back as friends. The 1997 Dhaulagiri Expedition succeeded on both accounts.

The 1993 Dhaulagiri Expedition had a few interpersonal lessons that our expedition was able to learn from. Given the stress of climbing an 8000 meter mountain it was decided that there was a chance of the repeat of the problems, therefore the 1997 expedition had a commitment to make sure the trip was harmonious and fun.

The interesting thing on the 1997 expedition was the number of people that had a background or at least a fair bit of exposure to management training and development. This helped when it was suggested that the expedition members do some teambuilding to help make the expedition work.

We felt the more that we knew each other the easier it was to communicate effectively and avoid pressing each other's buttons. We did not have the luxury of being able to get the expedition members together until we were in Katmandu, therefore we decided on a fresh approach.

We decided to use the walk-in to get to know each other better and put in place some simple methods including:

  • Swapping tent partners most nights
  • Walking with different group members
  • Each night one member was required to give a talk on a subject of his choice
  • Lots of meetings to give out information, work out logistics and gain input from everyone

We also decided to approach the team building with a more formal approach by Team Management Systems (TMS). I approached Dick McCann at TMS and he very kindly offered to sponsor us by providing the Team Management Profile (TMP). The Profile is computer-generated by feeding in an individual's answer to sixty questions. The profile questionnaire is seeking information on four continuums:

  • How we relate to other people, expressed as Extrovert or Introvert
  • How we gather information, expressed as Creative or Practical
  • How we make decisions, expressed as Analytical or Belief-based
  • How we organize ourselves and others, expressed as Structured or Flexible

Based on how we answered the questions the Profile provided four thousand words of feedback on how we prefer to operate in a team at work. The Profile uses eight descriptors such as Creator-Innovator and Concluder-Producer to describe personal characteristics that we often exhibit in the workplace.

Bob conducted an evening session on the Team Management Profile, on the first night of the walk in. The session provided background information on how the Profile works and how it can be used to benefit team harmony. The personal Profiles were handed out and then everyone spent time studying their feedback.

We spent some time talking about what this information meant to us. There was a good mix of the way we preferred to behave when working with others. Given the reasonable mix there was also lots of room for misunderstanding and different approaches to solving logistics. We discussed the mix of personalities and what gifts and weaknesses we each brought to the team. The Team Management Profiles provided all team members with a common language which was really useful when talking about our differences. The concepts went over very well with most members and it was felt that the information we received was easily 85% accurate. We swapped Profiles around and learned lots about each other. Bob handed out some information from TMS on how to 'pace' or interact successfully with each other.

These different approaches worked well and by the time we got to base camp we certainly had a better understanding of each other. As the expedition unfolded there were many times when the Team Management Profiles were used to help make sure our approach was congruent with the other person we were trying to interact with.

I thought that overall we did a pretty good job in keeping the team together. We did have one interesting meeting when it came to deciding on the summit team and timing of attempts and I believe we did not do it well at all. We had to do a fair bit of damage control to get alienated team members back on board. This is where the common language of Team Management Profiles was really useful and we could talk through what we didn't do well at the meeting. The meeting was reopened that evening and we were able to resolve most problems so there was a better feeling about the decisions.

I honestly believe that the effort we put into making the expedition work paid off in the end. There was room for improvement in how we worked together as a team and given hindsight I would have liked to have seen a couple of things done differently.

We could have done with a formal session on, 'Why we had come on the expedition?' and 'What will a successful expedition look like to each person?'. There were certainly different agendas on the mountain and it was the undisclosed expectations that made it so very difficult to come to a win/win solution on the summit attempts and who should do it. I would have liked to have had a session on the walk in and a review of our expectations after Camp One was established.

We needed to discuss the leadership issue and come to an agreement or an understanding on how decisions were going to be made, especially on an expedition such as ours, with a mix of three services and civilians. The day of the summit meeting was one of the causes of disharmony. Some of us felt that once we were on the mountain there would be consensus decision-making, based on the experience of the team. The decision-making style fluctuated, making it very confusing, as one minute we were being told what to do and next minute on another matter asked for input.

In conclusion the Team Management Profiles and formal teambuilding we did on the walk-in certainly helped in creating a more harmonious team than if we had just let the team develop by default. I would like to see more of the big AAA expeditions get into formal teambuilding before and during the expedition. The benefit of doing so is that team members are learning new people skills that can be transferred back into their lives at home and at work.

AAA Expeditions have always been seen as a place for developing leadership and team skills. If we start to plan the development of the expedition member's people skills through using tools such as the Team Management Profiles, I believe that AAA expeditions will become even more useful to the Defence Force and its members.

Copyright © Bob Killip. All rights reserved.

Bob Killip is the Managing Director of Outdoor Insights which specializes in corporate experiential training. Bob is an active member of AAA (Army Alpine Association) and has climbed as a member on many occasions.

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