Organizational Theory and Behavior
Artifact: Lessons Learned From Mount Everest Exercise
One of the astonishing realizations of this exercise — and subsequent inter- and intra-team engagement — was just how important psychological safety is, not simply for team comfort but also organizational effectiveness. We felt this organically on Team 3, and we also saw this on the Everest debrief with other teams as well. In quoting Harvard’s Amy Edmondson, Keswin (2021) notes that “…study after study from around the world linked psychological safety to worker engagement, which… is very good for business” (p. 10). I have thought about how this felt part luck, part leadership. We were a well-paired team by coincidence, but ample credit must be given to the person charged with leading us — as, I suppose, it is (or can be) in organizational life in general.
The subsequent point to acknowledge is that it’s not simply about who is part of the team, but what happens as a team. Sure we were paired in this collective exercise by nature of being registered for this course, but it’s also that way in organizations where we work — we are hired and thrust onto a team and into a job for which we are responsible. Polzer (2009) suggests, “Even the most structured of team interactions is influenced heavily by the informal norms of the team. Simply assembling the full team around a conference table says nothing about how members will engage with one another once they are assembled” (p. 5).
And, of course, once we’re around that “table,” healthy work and discussions are a must. I’ve noticed this in organizations with excessively (and damagingly) high compliance, whether by disengagement from colleagues or a management ethos that discourages dialogue and discussion. Hill and Lineback (2011) suggest we should “Watch for constructive conflict… If there’s none in your group, good ideas are likely to be missed” (p. 13). As I think it can and should be in the real world, our team was able to muster a good amount of this from one another, and within ourselves as well.
I repeatedly felt — throughout the many aspects of this exercise — that it wasn’t necessarily the end result (the destination) of the project, but the path of working with the team and learning about one another and what we bring forward (the journey) that was important. Perhaps not as important (since we did have goals to achieve) but since people are a vital aspect of organizations, working well together is so hugely important.
Hill, L. A. & Lineback, K. (2011). Be clear about how your team works: Foster the right team culture. In Being the boss: The 3 imperatives for becoming a great leader (pp. 1-24). Harvard Business Review.
Keswin, E. (2021). Rituals roadmap: The human way to transform everyday routines into workplace magic. McGraw Hill.
Polzer, J. T. (2009). Leading teams note. Harvard Business School.