How our team achieved peak performance – even in shorts

In this second post on my WMH adventure in Poland, I want to share my thoughts on how a group of 15 people managed to climb the peak of a snowy mountain in shorts. In my first post I reflected on how our trainers empowered us; here, I reflect on how we worked as a team to make the climb possible.

Our trainers played a surprisingly small role when it came to the actual climb. Yet, they made all the difference in preparing us for it. They empowered us to work together, overcome obstacles and achieve our goal.

  • Taking responsibility for oneself first and then for helping others. We made sure we put spikes underneath our shoes first before helping others with it and once on the mountain we put on our clothes first and only then helped others with it. It's a similar logic to how safety announcements on a plane ask you to put on the oxygen mask first before helping others with it. It's no use sacrificing yourself, if it means that you cannot contribute to the journey or even become a burden on the team.

  • We depended on each other, and had a strong sense of that. If someone needed a break, we all took a break (in the cold) to remain together. The slowest of us set the pace for all of us. We were as strong as the weakest link. The goal was to reach the top together, not to be at the top the fastest way possible. Sticking together made us stronger considering the cold, which turned harsher the closer we came to the top. We shared chocolate and tea, and huddled together like penguins during breaks – a huddle of one or two does not help much. We were still organized in smaller teams of four: much of the way we would walk together and support each other; but this closer collaboration in the small teams did not hinder us from helping people from other teams.

  • We were in the sweet spot were the magnitude of the challenge was matched by our competence and confidence. This forged us together. I believe most of us had this sense of how ridiculously hard the challenge seemed, how much we all needed to go beyond what we were comfortable with. But we also had a taste of the challenge a few days before when we did a practice walk, and we knew we could make it. We had the skills dealing with the cold, and having applied them before gave us confidence. And yet climbing the mountain remained a stretch.

  • We all were role-models to each other. Turning around and seeing how the team marched forward with iced snow gathering on the left side of people's faces, arms, legs inspired me to move forward as well and, in turn, perhaps it inspired the person before me. Seeing others help people put on their spikes, even though their fingers were stiff from the cold, inspired me to do the same.

  • We had a shared purpose but attached a personal meaning to it. We all wanted to climb the mountain, grow from it mentally, help each other and have a good time. We all shared that. But what this meant was probably different from one person to the next, filtered through one's life experiences, fears, limiting beliefs, hopes. I believe we were all prepared for the climb, not just having the right mindset and skillset for the climb, or knowing the overall goal but also having a personal reason why to do it, what the climb meant for each of us personally.

This quote really hit it home for me:

"It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." Sir Edmund Hillary

We did much more that day than climb a mountain in shorts. Individually and as a team, the challenge was not so much the task before us. The challenge was how to adopt the right skill-set and mindset - and doing so as part of a team.


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