Monday, July 30, 2012

Lessons from the mountains

I am just back from an excellent holiday with my family in gorgeous Switzerland.

It was quality time away and a chance for me to get some great photos of the magnificent scenery that country has to offer,  but the holiday was not about relaxation. We took this trip to learn climbing.

Ready to go on the first day ... with no idea of what lay ahead of us

There could be no better place to learn this sport than the Swiss Alps and our ski instructor from last December spends his summers as a climbing guide an teacher.

We rented a small chalet in the quaint town of Grindelwald and off we went. Pushed by my ambitious kids, we scaled to heights I didn't think we could or dared achieve, and not wanting to let my children down, I had to brave my lifelong fear of heights and follow where they wanted to go. It was exhilarating. Hard work and physically demanding, but well worth it.

What I liked best about it was the teamwork required. It bonded us as a family and I couldn't help analogising this to business.

The first step in climbing is to find a suitable rock face. Choose something too easy, and it will be crowded ... too many people will be on the same face. Choose something too difficult, and you set yourself up for failure. It's important to know your ability and limits and set your targets on a face that pushes you within reasonable limits. I think this is similar. To choosing ones "market place" in business. Carve out a niche that plays to your strengths and has sufficient differentiation to others around.

My son up a rock face we chose to challenge us

You then need to start preparing for the climb. The climber needs to look up and plan his or her path. To just shoot up without a plan is going to lead you into trouble. Not unlike a salesman. He needs to be prepared before going out and meeting customers. He needs to scope the lie of the land and modify his approach accordingly. The salesman should guide the way (working within the scope set by the business) and he should have confidence that there is a competent team behind him.

Climbing is a team sport (I learned this on our first session). The climber has to have total faith and trust in his belayer (the guy holding the rope at the bottom). Clear communication is essential. The belayer has to support the climber in the direction he wants to go, but the climber can't dictate all the shots. He has to be weary of the belayers ability and perhaps slow down from time to time (if the belayer can't keep up). In climbing, it is life threateningly dangerous for any of the team to consider themselves and not focus completely on their partner / team mate.

My son and daughter supporting each other all the way

And so in business, a support function exists to aid a sales function, but each must know what the other is doing, their capability and limits, and they must keep communication open and alive at all times. There is no room for bickering and politics. There is one goal to be reached and it is a totally joint and shared goal.

"Hanging" as a family ... 200m up a rock face!

What exhilarated me in our climbing experience was the encouragement and support being offered by all the family to each other. We are a competitive family, but this was not a time for one upmanship. This was not a race to see who could climb the fastest. It was a challenge for us all to see how we could get to the top together.

On occasion, My young daughter had to belay me, and despite being less than half my weight, we adjusted ourselves. Climbed at varying speeds and made sure that climber and belayer were always comfortable and in perfect harmony. We achieved our joint goals. We all reached the various summit points we selected and it was an amazing team effort.

"Hanging Out" with my daughter

These are great lessons for any office. Alignment and shared goals are key. The understanding of each other is crucial and having a respect for what each team member is doing and what their ability is will help everyone reach a targeted goal together. Clear and frequent communication is a must and so is an understanding of how pointless and wasteful politics and arguing is (as opposed to "healthy discussion" about a way forward).

Single minded focus is also crucial. While climbing, you learn that there's no room in your mind to be distracted and to think about something else. You have your own (or somebody else's) life in your hands (quite literally), and with that kind of strong focus you can achieve great things.

This was a truly memorable holiday. We have fond memories, some great pictures and we are an even stronger family unit having experienced this together.

Another elevated rest stop

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