Communicating From The South Pole

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Until recently communication while on expedition was a difficult and unreliable process.

The early polar explorers would be gone from home for years at a time with no communication back home. Nobody knew anything until they got back and if they never returned it was a mystery what happened.

When I climbed Mount Logan in 1999 we carried with us a big, heavy and awkward VHF radio. The battery was weak due to the cold and we had to put out a long wire antenna strung between our ski poles. It never did work and for 30 days we had no contact with the outside world.

In 2001 when I went to climb Cho Oyu (sixth highest mountain in world) in Tibet we brought an early model satellite phone with us. It was big and heavy and we had to smuggle it into Tibet as they were banned by law at that time. Once at camp we unpacked the phone, but were never able to figure out how to work it. There was a Swiss team there with a working satellite phone that I could use for $10/minute. One 15-minute call home cost me $150. Ouch!

On Everest I had a PDA/Sat phone system that allowed me to make calls and send email back home. I was able to post regular blogs and this was my first real opportunity to have consistent contact with the outside world. It was fun to write at the end of each day and tell my story to others on the web. In return I received many messages from followers and even connected with a grade school class and became pen pals with the students.

For my South Pole expedition I will be using a DeLorme inReach system that I got from the helpful team at . This easy and inexpensive system allows me to send and receive email and text messages and will even provide my current location on a map of Antarctica. I will pair this with a Bluetooth keyboard to make it easier to type long dispatches and a solar charging system from GoalZero.

Once activated I will post a link on this blog where the map can be found and I will begin to post regular blogs once the expedition begins on November 15.

Preparing for the South Pole

photo 1As I prepare for my expedition to the South Pole I plan to post regular blogs pre-expedition, during, and post wrap up.

Right now I am in the preparation phase which consists of logistics, equipment, and fitness training.

Most of the logistics are in place, but I did have some challenges with my flights to Punta Arenas. I am arriving one day later than desired, but all should be good.

I have made a few new gear purchases (new Fischer E99 skis and a ColdAvenger face mask), but mostly have everything I need and am starting to organize and pack that now.

I am working hard on my fitness training. My program consists of a 5 mile run followed by a 60-minute tire pulling session. I started off with one truck tire and as that became too easy I added a 15lb brick to the tire and then I added a second brick. I have now worn a hole through my tire and flipped it over to start on a fresh sidewall. I just upgraded to pulling 2 tires and it is very hard. When I first tried 2 tires it was very difficult and I could only pull them for about 5 minutes. Now the 2 tires feel almost the same as 1 tire with 2 bricks.

My departure date is November 11 from Toronto. Until that time I will continue to post periodic blogs with updates on the expedition preparation. Once on the ice I will have a satellite communication system and will have the ability to post dispatches to my blog. I also have a GPS map tracker so that you can follow our exact progress on a map.

Our team members are scattered between Oakville, Colorado and the UK. We are communicating via email and starting the team building process. I have climbed with two of the expedition members before, but one if new to me, but has been on trips with one other team member.

Team building will be an essential element of the expedition as the 4 of us struggle together and live in very close quarters for up to 50 days or more. I will share more about this in future blogs.

Team Building on the Roof of Africa

Kilimanjaro Kilimanjaro teamFrom the arid plains of Tanzania Mount Kilimanjaro rises majestically to 5895m. Soaring above the clouds, Kilimanjaro dominates the landscape and has become a huge tourism drawing card for Tanzania. Often referred to as a long hike, don’t be fooled by those that tell you it is a walk in the park. Kilimanjaro extracts a price from all those that attempt to stand upon her glaciated summit.

This was my third time to climb Kilimanjaro and as always teamwork was required for success. Being an expedition leader it is my responsibility to keep my team safe and to give them the best possible chance at success, but I am also responsible for team building.

Beginning as a group of strangers I must help them bond into a high performance team that is ready to support one another to achieve their collective goal. All teams will form a culture, and it will form unbelievably fast. As a leader I can either sit back, let it happen and hope for the best, or I can guide it towards a vision.

Utilizing Summit’s Deliberate Success model THE DELIBERATE SUCCESS MODEL I set out to deliberately build a high performance team. The Deliberate Success model tells us to start with Vision; begin with the end in mind as Stephen Covey taught us. Starting day one I shared my vision of high performance with the team. Expectations must be set and defined as no leader can expect their team members to live up to their expectations of they do not know what they are.

Open and honest communication and support and trust were the driving values behind my vision of high performance. Relationship was at the very core. I always say we do not do things for one another because we HAVE to, but we do things for one another because we WANT to.

Once the vision has been established action is required to bring it to life. It is time to walk the talk. As a leader I must demonstrate complete conviction to the vision and values and acknowledge team members when they actively live the vision and values as well.

The third phase in building deliberate success is to build in time for reflections to analyse what is working and what needs to be modified.

As we started out trek through the rainforest the team was living the vision and values and bonding together well. After a couple of days we were hitting our stride as a team. As we passed 4800m the rarified air of high altitude got the better of some of the team members and it was through teamwork and support that we go through these trials.

While building the team I was also integrating myself as a leader into an already established team. When one climbs Kilimanjaro it is required by the park service to utilize a local guide. Not only is this a great local employment program, but it has greatly increased safety on the mountain over the years. These highly experienced guides have a crew of assistant guides, cooks, camp managers and porters that they have worked with for countless trips.

When integrating a new leader (me) into this existing team I had to tread lightly. Regardless of my skills and experience, if I pushed too hard and too fast I knew I would not be accepted as a leader. I could tell Charlie, our local guide and trip leader was weary of me. He had been here many times before. The Western know it all trip leader bursts in and tries to run the show. I could see this in his eyes and set out to earn his respect and that of the crew before asserting myself as a leader in any way.

As the days progressed I became the co-leader with Charlie in a seemingly natural way and we worked brilliantly together. We turned to one another for advice and support and consulted each other on all logistical and team decisions. We were both leading our team of climbers to the roof of Africa.

After several days of steady progress up the mountain we were ready to make out shot at the summit. Departing at midnights we marched through the frigid night higher and ever higher. At 5400m the altitude claimed a victim from our team. Buckled over with a blinding headache, vomiting and dizzy we knew she could not progress further up the mountain without possible dire consequences. Moses, one of our assistant guides, quickly volunteered to take our climber back to the safety of camp so the rest of the team could keep moving towards the heavens.

image1At 7:10am we crested the volcanic rim of Kilimanjaro and then made our way around the cone to the true summit of Kilimanjaro; the roof of Africa.

All in all, it was an amazing trip and one that will be permanently etched into the minds of all team members. Success did not come from luck, but from deliberate planning, team building and leadership.

Building a high performance team in an office environment is no different from what we did on Kilimanjaro. At Summit Team building we do this every day. It is who we are and what we do.

Give us a call to learn how we can add value to your next meeting with our team building programs, to design a training workshop for high performance, or to book a motivational/educational keynote from Scott Kress to kick off or close out your meeting.

If you are really ambitious, talk to us about taking your team to Kilimanjaro. A team building program unlike anything you have ever experienced and one guaranteed to change your life.


Blue Mountain Summit FAM Tour

IMG_2630On July 14 and 15 Summit Team Building and Blue Mountain resorts partnered together to offer a unique FAM tour. For those of you that are not familiar with what a Fam tour is it is a short form term for Familiarization tour. Hotel, meeting, conference and resort properties frequently invite event planners and potential clients for a FAM tour. Essentially this is a showcase or a sales presentation. The idea is to provide the participant with all the information they need to book the facility for a future meeting or event, and to build a relationship which is the first and most important step in the sales process.

Together Summit and Blue Mountain designed a FAM that was fun, engaging and educational. 26 participants arrived on the Thursday for a beautiful reception and dinner in the village Conference Centre Atrium. This beautiful space with massive windows and a comfortable patio was set with stunning table décor and the locally inspired meal was tasty and unique. After dinner the group retired to the Silver Creek Room for desert and to be entertained by Scott Kress and his Learning in Thin Air Keynote.

This gripping presentation motivated the group for an early morning hike up Blue Mountain the next morning. Setting off at 6:30 am the group hiked the Village Way trail winding through the beautiful forested hills of Blue Mountain to the top of the Niagara Escarpment. A fun and unexpected surprise was to meet over 300 participants of the annual meeting of the fitness group November Project. They welcomed us into their group as we all walked back to the base of the mountain together. Truly inspiring!

After that we started with an amazing breakfast then kicked off the morning with some team development exercises. At Summit we view team development as the training oriented workshops that help teams and individuals perform at a higher level based on a better understanding of the tools, strategy and theory behind high performance. The group would need this warm-up as they were about to embark on a custom designed Blue Mountain Quest.

The Blue Mountain Quest is one of the unique and custom team building programs Summit has designed for Blue Mountain. This scavenger hunt based program puts the groups into smaller competitive teams and challenges them to find various locations on the property, to complete strategic team challenges, and to capture it all with creative photos. In this case we replaced the standard FAM walk about with a Blue Mountain Quest designed to take the group to over 15 different locations on the resort property where they would meet Blue Mountain team members including the Head Chef, Conference Services Manger, AV Technicians, and see the various accommodation rooms, meeting rooms, dining venues, and recreation and team building attractions along the way.

The Quest ended with a ride up the gondola to the top of the escarpment for a lunch with a beautiful view. A great time was had by all and this new and improved FAM tour was deemed to be a winner!

Feeling left out? Don’t worry, this was not the last of the Blue Mountain Summit FAM Tours. We will be hosting similar events a few times a year. Keep in touch to learn of our next dates.

Make the Most of Your Next Meeting

Team Development Programs“Meetings get a bad rap, and deservedly so – most are disorganized and distracted. But they can be a critical tool for getting everyone on the same page.”

-Justin Rosenstein

Studies show that meetings fill an increasing number of hours in the average workday yet, according to most employees, they are responsible for more wasted time than office politics, social media or chatting with co-workers. This is sobering in light of a 1996 whitepaper by MCI called “Meetings in America” which reported there were 13 million business meetings a day in the USA. Today, that is likely a much bigger number.

But meetings are also a necessary part of any business. They can help people share information, see the bigger picture and find novel ways to collaborate and problem solve. From a simple team building perspective, meetings can provide people with time together; time to get to know one another and build a shared history. With a bit of planning, your meetings will leave employees with a sense of shared purpose and clarity around how best to tackle the job at hand.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article: Run Meetings That Are Fair to Introverts, Women, and Remote Workers, Renee Cullinan discusses the lost opportunities leaders and teams experience when they unconsciously create a meeting environment that is not inclusive to all participants.

Introverts are often overlooked and unheard from in a typical noisy and free flowing team meetings. The extroverts, who talk to think, do not provide the time or the opportunity for the introverts, who think to talk, to process, think about and to respond. The introverts are then labeled as unengaged or less knowledgeable and as a result underutilized and undervalued in meetings.

Conference calls are notoriously unproductive and provide a breeding ground for multi-tasking, day dreaming, and disengagement. On most conference calls there are only a few active participants and the rest merely ‘listen’. As a reality of businesses with geographically separated team members, a leader must focus on strategies to make the dreaded conference call engaging and to provide strategies to encourage full participation for all participants.

Whether you like to admit it or not women still struggle in today’s workplace. Countless studies have shown that women are more likely to be interrupted in a meeting or to have their ideas taken less seriously. In fact a taxonomy of terms such as “manterrupting”, “mansplaining”, and “bropropriating” has emerged to identify common meeting behaviours.

As a leader you are tasked with getting the most from your teams and running a productive meeting is a critical tool you use. When you are deliberate and design a meeting to include all team members equally you can realize much greater gains.

Feature Program: Reaching New Heights Blue Mountain

DSC_0158Summit Team Building is the official team building partner of Blue Mountain resort. Although we deliver team building program at any location you request, Blue Mountain provides us with some unique features which we can build a team building program around.

The Reaching New Heights team building program at Blue Mountain takes place on the Blue Mountain Woodlot Ropes Course. This program is designed to build strong trusting relationships among team members, to promote communication and team problem solving skills, and to provide a fun and inspirational environment for individuals to step outside their comfort zones and accomplish something truly memorable.

Summit utilizes the Woodlot Ropes Course which is a challenge course built on telephone poles and presents over 30 unique and challenging obstacles. There is a wide variety of challenges to meet almost anyone’s needs. Starting just feet from the ground and maxing out at close to 40 feet in the air all challenges are designed for the physical abilities of the average adult. Translation: you do not need to be a superstar athlete or in top physical shape to participate. This program is open to almost all physical abilities and presents options of different challenge for those looking for a greater challenge or something on the milder side.

We begin this team building program with a few warm up exercises to focus the team on teamwork, communication and building trust. We then put on harnesses and helmets and make our way to the course. The first challenge is a team challenge where the team must set a goal and transport product to customer. In this case the products are cups of water and the customer is a bucket at the end of the first section of ropes course. This is a challenge that must be approached as a team and only once the team begins to collaborate and communicate are they successful.

This earns them their pass to the high course for those that choose to embark on this adventure. Working in groups of three, the participants navigate a series of fun and exciting high ropes challenges. At each challenge there are instructions asking them to work together in a specific way. This exhilarating experience is a true bonding experience building trust, relationship, confidence, problem solving, and communication within the team.

Contact us today to learn more about the reaching New Heights team building program at Blue Mountain resort.


South Pole Expedition Announcement

NPSummit President Scott Kress is always looking for his next adventure. As you may know, Scott has summited Mount Everest, climbed the 7 Summits (the highest point on each continent), skied to the magnetic North Pole, and guided ill and injured Canadian soldiers on various expeditions through the charity True Patriot Love.

After climbing Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica, for the second time this past January, Scott decided he wanted to see more of Antarctica.

Scott and three other adventurers have set a plan in motion to ski to the South Pole and to do it as what is referred to as an unassisted and unsupported expedition style. What this means is the team will have no assistance beyond their own power (no sled dogs, kites, or machines of any kind) and will not access any outside support once the expedition begins. This means all the equipment, food, fuel and supplies the team will need for the entire expedition will be with them from the start. No re-supply part way.

You may be thinking this is not that big a deal, but what the team is attempting to do has been done by fewer than 40 people in history. This epic journey begins at the Ronne Ice Shelf on the edge of the frozen Antarctic continent and travels through remote, challenging and unexplored terrain, for almost 1000km to reach the South Pole. This scenic, but committing route skirts the western flank of the massive Foundation Ice Stream and the Transantarctic Mountains, then turns south toward the Pole.

The team will use cross-country skis and pull their supplies in sleds weighing in excess of 200 pounds as they travel for 45-50 days in temperatures ranging from -20c to -40c without the wind-chill added by the constant Antarctic katabatic winds.

Only 1 previous Canadian has ever skied to the South Pole via the route the team will travel and when successful Kress will become one of less than 45 people in the world to complete what is referred to as the Adventure Grand Slam – people who have climbed the 7 Summits and skied to the North Pole and the South Pole.

This adventure will begin in mid-November and stay tuned for more details as the expedition preparation progresses.

Sponsorship opportunities are available if you see a way to use this expedition to build performance within your organization.

Scott Kress-Where Are You Now?

Scott Kress. Summit Team Building. Inger MacKenzie Photography. Neighbours of Joshua Creek magazine.

Scott Kress.
Summit Team Building.

I was recently interviewed for the Lakehead University Social Sciences & Humanities Newsletter. This is part of their “where are you now” profile of past graduates.

Lakehead University gave me the environment to thrive and where I learned to climb. These two elements have directly lead to where I am today as the founder of Summit Team Building. It was at university that I really started to learn about team and leadership and my role, skills and competencies in both. These beginnings would go on to help me form my philosophies around team and leadership performance which build the foundation of all that we do here at Summit Team Building.

To read article please click here.



Kickstart Kilimanjaro

Amboseli_national park_back_drop_mount_kilimanjaro-tanzaniaThis July Summit President Scott Kress will lead a climb of Kilimanjaro. Scott has climbed Kilimanjaro two times previously and is keen to return. This climb is part of the Kickstart program at Medcan. This program is designed to kickstart a lifestyle change for those that need it and to promote fitness, healthy nutrition, and leading an active and healthy life.

In Scott’s opinion Kilimanjaro presents the perfect combination of factors for the novice climber; and this is why it is so popular. The Altitude of Kilimanjaro at 5895m (19,341ft) is high enough that it provides exposure to high altitude and the challenges that accompany this, but it is not so high as to be overly difficult or dangerous. There is no technical climbing involved so novice adventures can do it. The route is physically demanding so that when one makes it to the summit there is a real and justifiable sense of accomplishment and easy enough that most people can do it provided they have put in the training beforehand. And lastly beyond the dangers of high altitude sickness there are no real objective hazards on the mountain.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a study in ecology like few other places on earth. One starts in the low African plains and then as you climb higher you go through multiple eco zones essentially travelling from the plains to an arctic glaciated environment. The topography and the flora and fauna as you trek each day is spectacular and ever changing.

The keys to success on Kilimanjaro, although there is never any guarantee, are fitness and acclimatization.

Most people can acclimatize to the altitude of Kilimanjaro given the appropriate amount of time. Time is what your body needs to make the necessary physiological adjustments to the lower levels of available oxygen and the decrease in pressure. There are guiding companies offering 4 and 5 day climbs and I have a friend that did it in 48 hours, but for most people this would be asking for trouble. A 7-8 day trip is best for most people. This relaxed pace allows the body to adjust slowly and thus not revolt against a sudden change in altitude.IMG_4275

Fitness is relative for each person, but plan to be in the best shape of your life. You may not need this level of conditioning, but it is great to set as a goal and the better shape you are in the more you will enjoy the climb. Fitness does not influence how your body adapts to altitude, but it is pretty much a prerequisite for success.

All in all Kilimanjaro is a great experience. Prepare for it to be busy with other aspiring adventurers  and pack your patience as some sections of the trail may become congested.

If you are interested to join Scott on this climb please contact him through this website.


New Team Development Program – Engineered Strong

engineeredstrongSummit Team Building is excited to announce our newest Team Development program; Engineered Strong. Over the years we have heard from many project teams telling us about all the challenges they face regarding communication, decision making, accountability, conflict and more. Well, we listened and have developed a program specifically to help project teams form and to avoid many of the common challenges associated with partners from multiple teams, departments, and companies working together. This team development workshop is specifically designed to get project teams started on the right foot.

Most project teams are a diverse assembly of people from various departments and, frequently, different organizations. There is potential strength in this diversity of skills and perspectives if the team can tap into their members’ differences in a constructive way. However, there are great challenges in doing so. Stakeholders may have unclear roles and competing agendas and priorities. Leadership, accountability, meeting processes and communications are often unclear. Constructive differences can spiral into destructive conflicts and decisions can be painful or impossible. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Your project may have a small budget or one in the multi-millions. It may have a 3-month or 3-year timeline. However, if you invest in a solid team foundation with “Engineered Strong”, you will see the return when you need it most.

How it Works

At Summit we are team development specialists and have been helping teams form and perform for almost 20 years. We have engineered this workshop specifically for the complexity of diverse project teams.

The overall goal of the workshop is to help your project team develop and agree upon a common destination and a clear path forward. Throughout the workshop, team members develop patterns of successful interactions as they face challenges together. The fun and engaging challenges build relationships and highlight different team skills, such as trust-building, communications, decision-making, conflict management and change management. Mental models and tools are presented for each topic area. The group’s learning is carried forward as the workshop progresses so that they finish with a group charter and set of behavioral norms that are based on common experience and consensus.

Although there are common elements to each workshop, yours will be customized to meet the needs of your project team. The end product of the workshop is to have a team charter that defines the expectations and interaction norms for the team. Each team member will sign this document and it will be used throughout the project to guide all interactions throughout the project. Woven throughout the session will be various learning modules and experiential activities that make the session fun, engaging, insightful and educational for the participants.

The Results

By the end of the workshop, stakeholders will:

  • Have strong interpersonal relationships based on mutual trust
  • Be committed to the same goals
  • Share common expectations around leadership, roles, meetings, communication, decision making and conflict resolution.
  • Have tools, such as a Team Charter and a set of Norms, to hold one another accountable for their behaviours and actions.