Thrill Seekers: Climbing Mt. Everest, by Will Saunders
A couple of weeks ago, my managers organized a leadership/team-building exercise for me and my colleagues that simulated climbing Mt. Everest. It was an interesting undertaking, and I think – unlike most boring team building exercises – it was highly valuable and a very engaging activity. The purpose was to help those who supervise and lead teams to recognize how communication styles, interactions with each other, and decision-making processes can help or hinder the team’s progress.
The exercise was executed much like a board game in which participants engaged in role-playing on a team of five hikers trying and reach the top of the mountain. There were five teams (all my coworkers who were fellow team leaders and supervisors). Each team was competing with the others to get to the top….not necessarily to beat the other team but rather, just to make it there successfully. The Leadership and Team Simulation is part of Harvard Business School’s leadership development resources.
Though the simulation was designed for educators to use with students, it really can be used for any group. By way of background, Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level (the highest mountain peak in the world) and is situated in Nepal, nestled between China and India. Each hiker has a variety of factors impacting them individually as well as the hiking team, including their health, the weather, and supplies.
The exercise was eye-opening for me. Many of my colleagues were not successful and didn’t make it to the top. When I say they were not successful, I mean they did not survive. A few of us made the decision to turn back and not continue, which most certainly saved our lives. But many other team members succumbed to the elements or the physical limitations brought about from mountain climbing.
Until I participated in this exercise, I never realized that a large number of people who attempt to climb Mt. Everest die during the climb. I was prompted to write about this today because of the media reports about a few people who died this past weekend on the mountain. People die for a variety of reasons. Some die from hypothermia; some die from a lack of oxygen; some fall – and consequently cause others to fall with them; and some die from a condition known as Acute Mountain Sickness, which refers to the body’s reaction to a lack of oxygen. It’s not bad enough that in many people a lack of oxygen causes the lungs and heart to stop which kills them. But a lack of oxygen can have other effects too, such as a loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, impaired judgment, just to name a few. These conditions are only temporary, though, because prolonged loss of oxygen will ultimately lead to one’s demise.
I almost missed the most salient points of the exercise – which were (1) communicating cogently with one another; (2) maintaining improved interpersonal abilities; and (3)using sound judgment with decision-making – because I focused so much on all the things that could go wrong. Needless to say, climbing Mt. Everest is not on my bucket list. Those who know me well know I’m too chicken. But more importantly, it’s out of my budget. The cost of such an expedition can range between $25,000 and $50,000, and in most instances that doesn’t include the cost of getting there and any accommodations and meals. Getting there is pricey too. So, if I had that much extra dough laying around, I can come up with dozens of things I’d do with it. Traveling to Nepal and climbing Mt. Everest isn’t one of them.
It’s obviously a very appealing enterprise to many. If you want to know more, check out the 2015 movie titled Everest, which is on Amazon Prime. The 1996 movie of the same title is also a good one. Both films, while largely fiction, are based on real life events. . One thing they both have in common, I’ll tell you without giving anything away, is the extent to which people can still argue and be disagreeable even when their lives are at stake. Egos will always rule.