(By Sean Chapple) During my career as an Officer in the elite Royal Marines and as a Polar expedition leader, I have frequently dealt with the harsh realities of developing, leading and sustaining high performance teams in both rapidly changing, and life-threatening environments. This challenging career has taken me from high intensity operational conflicts to leading novice adventurers across unforgiving polar wilderness. Environments literally poles apart, yet both sharing familiar challenges in the pursuit of creating high performance in those I have led.
During high-intensity conflicts and in the Polar Regions, where the unforgiving freezing landscape becomes as menacing as an enemy armed with Kalashnikovs, I have been able to experience and observe how others operate under extremes of pressure and at the edge of human endurance. I have not only developed greater awareness of my own capacity for leadership, but also gained a deeper understanding of how to create and sustain ultimate teamwork and individual performance in others.
Firstly, high performance is not limited to an elite few. Anyone can maximise their team’s potential if they apply the right skills and mindset. Achieving high performance is about transformation. It is about personality and character. It is a combination of attitude, desire and commitment. It is not a science. It is an art.
Over the coming weeks I will be sharing some of my insights to help you build and sustain high performance in your teams to tackle, and succeed, in your next adventure.
Team vs Group
In effective teams, members share a high level of commitment to achieving a common objective and have a high level of satisfaction from being part of and working with the team. Its members work together in an integrated way, with awareness and appreciation of each other’s strengths (and weaknesses). This gives them a high capability for solving their own problems, and generates a willingness to take action to produce results. These are the kind of teams that Expedition Leaders should aim to build.
The challenge for a leader is to maximise individual potential and abilities. It is not simply a process of gathering a number of individuals, however skilled, into a group and expecting them to perform as a team, let alone a high performing team. It is about recognising and unlocking the potential in individuals and about developing a team culture of high performance.
Understanding Why Teams Fail
First it is useful to understand ‘why’ so many teams have failed in their endeavors. Despite sharing the same desire to succeed and often having similar resources at hand many teams fail to reach their goal. Many fail not because of the environment or inadequate resources, but because of the wrong mindset in the leaders and team members.
Through my own experiences and studying other expeditions I have identified three root causes that underpin the majority of expedition failures:
Those who embark on an expedition ignorant of the challenges ahead, unaware of the hurdles and possible setbacks were doomed from the outset, and for some the price has been severe.
There are others who arrogantly assume that they could dust of their equipment and adopt the same approach that had served them well before, regardless of the passage of time or new environment. Time was not invested in developing new team members, learn new things or embrace new methodologies and technologies.
Finally, there are the teams who cut corners when routines became repetitious or when fatigued, hampered by adverse weather or under stress. Some also falsely believed that the ‘good conditions’ would continue and disregarded their own safety protocols. As we know in adventure, the good times do not always last and weather conditions can change quickly.
In order to avoid becoming the victim of ignorance, arrogance and complacency it is crucial to put in place preventative strategies. Investing time and energy into ensuring that you do not fall into one of these categories is critical to achieving high performance. Not just in the planning, but also during the execution stage.
Ignorance can be avoided through effective planning, if you didn't read my last article, check it out for some my insights on how. Avoiding becoming ignorant is about validation. I take my teams on regular mini adventures to test and evaluate our selection of clothing and equipment and rehearse our drills and routines. This not only ensures that we have made the right choices, but also validates plan and helps identify possible setbacks. In future articles I will explore some great techniques, such as the Leadershift and Tent-Time, which help leaders and teams avoid becoming complacent.
The Nine Essentials Principles
Equipped with the knowledge of the main factors which contribute to failure I developed nine essentials principles for building high performance teams. This methodology and approach has one single purpose - to build, sustain and lead a team to success.
Whether it is putting together a team to make a record-breaking attempt on the South Pole, summit Everest or row across an ocean, the application of the nine principles will significantly increase levels of performance in your team; and ultimately success.
The nine essential principles form the mnemonic ADVENTURE:
Adopt a positive viewpoint
Develop an appetite for risk
Venture into unknown territory
Expect to encounter setbacks
Never give up
Trust in self and others
Understand the outcome
Respect individual differences
Enjoy the experience
In future articles I will be exploring each of the nine principle in some detail to help you and your team achieve success on your next adventure.
Sean Chapple has planned, managed and led over 20 expeditions beyond the Arctic and Antarctic circles. He spent an earlier career as an officer in the Royal Marines gaining operational and management experiences across the globe and has since held positions in senior commercial leadership and consultancy roles. For over 20 years Sean has been involved in building and leading high performance teams in a diverse range of industries. He is also a motivational speaker and author of several books.
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