Is mountain climbing good for – team building – business continuity?

After 4 years at ABB in Sweden, working my way through roles as a software developer, requirements engineer, project manager, product manager, subcontract manager, I found myself in a role as an internal consultant, training and coaching other ABB companies in becoming more mature in their Software Engineering.

The Software Engineering Institute (SEI) in Pittsburg Pennsylvania was a cornerstone in this. Here, I took a certification in using the Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI) framework allowing me to assess organizations’ maturity in Software Engineering, and to develop strategies to move them up the ladder. One of the other students in Pittsburgh was a middle manager from AstraZeneca, someone who would play a role later in my life.

Word to mouth – Kandersteg to Leukerbad

The work we did, coaching other ABB companies, spread throughout the ABB Group which led to Joerg Reuter, Head of ABB Substation Automation in Switzerland making a visit to Sweden and 3 months later, I found myself in a job rotation contract working for Joerg at the ABB research facility in Baden. This was the start of a very inspiring and rewarding period in my life, and as the picture shows, it was also a jump-start with a team-building activity where the complete Substation Automation team aimed to climb Rinderhorn, 4000 meters high, and this was just a pit-stop on the long walk from Kandersteg down to Leukerbad in the south.

What looked like a walk in the park became a challenge for us all and the mission had to be adapted to the condition of the people.

What I learned during this climbing exercise was that planning and exercising are key for your survival. If you lost your foothold, your life depended on your teams’ ability to stay steady and their preparedness to take the extra load.

Thomas Siegrist, in the center of this picture was project managing this exercise. He looked quite relaxed but his planning would, the next day, be put to the test.

We started at 4am the next day in complete darkness. With us, was an experienced mountaineer who probably could run up and down the mountaintop blindfolded. It took us 8 hours to reach 3500 meters, and here we had to stop to check our equipment, put on warm clothes and add crampons to our shoes making sure that we could climb the remaining snowy and icy part to the top.

Checking, checking, and checking again is something you do when life depends on you succeeding as a team. Here, we divided into two teams, each tied together by a rope, meaning that if one team member slipped, the complete team would manage to catch the fall. Ice picks were divided among team members, and off we set on our final steps up into the clouds…

You could barely see the other team in the background. This part was a bit scary with limited vision, and a bit icy, all together forcing us to work together as a team. As you already know, we managed to reach the top and we could see Leukerbad when leaning over the ridge. It was a fantastic moment to sit on the top together with the other team members. This is a memory that will stay with us all for the rest of our lives.

Lessons learned

I talked afterward with Thomas Siegrist and he told me that a proper risk assessment hadn’t been done before taking the decision. This event could have led to the complete ABB Substation Automation being wiped out of business.

My own lessons from this event were that planning, exercising, testing in combination with proper risk management are vital for successful deliveries.

Conclusion

As a team-building exercise, the climbing was great. From a business risk appetite perspective, not so great. This is why companies should have Business Continuity HR strategies covering how they secure availability to key competencies over time.

At the pen

Pierre Wettergren

 

 

 

 

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