(Correne Coetzer) Reaching the South Pole or North Pole is not about egos but takes a team effort, says Sean Chapple. He shares nine strategies with ExplorersWeb for when the team is skiing, sledge-hauling, kiting, making their way across the ice to the Pole; strategies from milestones, leadership, complacency, setbacks, decision making, to off days and fun days.
For anyone the prospect of skiing over 700 miles in sub zero temperatures will be quite daunting. To avoid being overwhelmed by the immense challenge ahead I always break my journeys into achievable milestones.
Each milestone being a single degree. My map is only ever opened up as far as the next milestone, or degree, and when that degree is crossed it is an occasion to celebrate success. I always carry a small selection of treats to be enjoyed on crossing a degree. This can be a wobbly coffee, some cheese or maybe an extra bar of chocolate.
Change over the leaders
Another strategy I always employ on the ice is to change over the leaders each time we stop for a rest break. This helps reinforce responsibility and ownership throughout the team, builds self-confidence, and as a leader gives me some space to look at the strategic progress of the expedition.
Reflect and discuss progress
One of the biggest dangers on a polar journey is becoming complacent, and I think it then root cause of most failures. To avoid complacency setting in I always have what I call Tent-time at the end of each day. This a 15-minute time-out to reflect and discuss progress made, review future milestones and the plan to reach them and share feedback. Its essentially about asking the all-important question for any high performance team how can we improve?.
Accept setbacks happen
During a journey setbacks will occur, regardless of how meticulous your planning and training has been. Accept setbacks happen so when they do you won't become disheartened. You can anticipate most during your planning, preparation and training. Set time aside to conduct some virtual rehearsals with the team sat around a chart discussing what ifs.
When you do your field training try always use the same equipment you will use during your journey, and try and replicate as many of the procedures you plan to adopt. I have my teams train always wearing goggles and mitts so they learn how to do routine tasks such as erecting a tent, or use a GPS with limited vision and bulky mitts. These rehearsals in 'safe environments' will pay dividends when you land in Antarctica.
Advances in communication and technology like HumanEdgeTech Contact 5 software enable polar expeditions to connect with the outside world almost real-time through interactive websites, SMS texting and email. This is great source of motivation for any team when messages of support and encouragement come into the tent from around the globe!
Another important team skill to have on a polar journey is an agreed method by which decisions are made. My approach has always been consensus based where everyone not only has input into decision-making but is actually required to contribute.
If you need to change your plan during your journey, which at some point you will, it is crucial that everyone has buy-in and is therefore committed to the change in plan. Whatever your approach is ensure it is agreed before you land on the ice so everyone understands how decisions will be reached. Sometimes a decision may not need to be reached immediately, so allow time for everyone to think over the options - you have a lot of time to think during a 12 hour hauling day.
Before you make a decision always be clear on what it is you want to achieve; you need to be clear here. Your are about to change a plan that has been put together, probably over several months when you have been fresh and alert. Look at what options are open to you, always considering what are the facts underpinning your options, and what are the assumptions you have made.
On all my journeys, I have had a team saying...'every dog has its day. This is an acceptance that we are not super heroes and at some point during the journey, we will have a bad day.
It may have due to a poor nights sleep, an injury or just feeling a bit low. When these days hit you, it is important to be open with other team members redistribute sledge loads and empathize with your fellow team members. A ski to the pole is not about egos, today someone else may be having their day, and tomorrow it will be you. It takes a team effort to reach the Pole.
Finally, I would say enjoy the experience. It is easy to get completely focused on the goal of reaching the pole and lose sight of the wonders on the way. When you stop for a rest break during the day, take the time to enjoy your surroundings and in the evening get the mp3 going and enjoy your teams company and share the high and lows of the day.
During the 2006-07 Antarctica season Sean Chapple led a team of three Royal Marines unassisted, unsupported from Patriot Hills to the Geographic South Pole. At the Pole they turned around and kited back, covering a distance of 2200 km.
Sean spent an earlier career as an officer the elite Royal Marines gaining operational and management experiences across the globe. Sean has held positions in senior commercial leadership roles and is currently employed as the Project Manager of a 200 strong multi-national organization.
Chapple has written several books with his polar adventures as background.
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