I have written about teamwork in past posts here, and it is a critical component in my keynote presentation Climb Your Everest. Since it is such an essential component to success on Mount Everest and, likewise, on the Everests we all have in our personal and professional lives, I wanted to come back to it today.
Interestingly - and coincidentally - I received a link in email today to an article entitled Rewriting History - A New Peak by Pat Booth from the website Stuff from New Zealand. In the article, Booth recounts elements of Sir Edmund Hillary's famous ascent of Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953, and his historic jaunt to the South Pole in 1958. While writing about the former, Booth recounts a segment of a letter he received from Hillary three months after Hillary & Tenzing's ascent of Everest. In it, Hillary speaks candidly about their climb and the teamwork necessary to make the ascent:
Never in the history of Himalayan mountaineering has the responsibility for success been so widely spread amongst members of the expedition. If [Sir John] Hunt had been anything less of a brilliant and determined planner; if [George] Lowe had failed to make a safe and practicable route up the steep Lhotse ice face; if [Charles] Evans and [Tom] Bourdillon had not succeeded in pioneering the route to the South Summit; if all the numerous arduous and difficult jobs had not been performed with courage and resourcefulness our attempt would certainly have failed.
Tenzing and I were given the opportunity to cap off this accumulated store of hard endeavour. That we were successful must be entirely to the credit of the whole expedition. (quoted from here)
This is a point I stress in my keynote presentations: to succeed on a mountain - be it a physical or metaphorical one - teamwork is essential. Each and every member of the team must be selflessly dedicated to the end goal. No one can be out for their own best interest, no one can be looking out for number one at the expense of the team goals.
The only thing I would add to Hillary's account is that there were many others involved in the team success in 1953. There were Sherpa like my friend Ngawang Gombu, who was only 16 and carried loads to 26,000 feet. (Gombu would later summit Everest with Jim Whittaker in 1963 and become the first person to reach the top twice with his ascent in 1965.) There were also low-altitude porters and yak herders who played a less romantic but no-less essential role by getting the equipment from the lowlands to the base of the mountain. There were families back home in the UK and New Zealand who offered their support, both emotional and financial; there were planners and fund raisers who helped bring the expedition from dream to reality.
Of course Hillary did not mention every one of these people in his letter to Pat Booth so many years ago. He summed it up perfectly in that last paragraph: Tenzing and I were given the opportunity to cap off this accumulated store of hard endeavour. That we were successful must be entirely to the credit of the whole expedition.
And that is my whole point: climbing our mountains often leads to a solitary achievement, to a single person standing on the tippy-top. But, the way is paved by the efforts of many, by the sweat, toil, tears, and laughter of the entire team. We should not forget them while we bask in the glory of achievement, and we should always remember that all we accomplish is directly thanks to the efforts of the team.