Teamwork Under Pressure: Human Flight From The Eiger

Late last year I formed part of a BASE jumping expedition to the Eiger.  I was part of a team that bowed heads for a 2 minute remembrance silence before flying a wingsuit human flight arrowhead formation from the infamous north face to raise awareness for charity. It was an expedition that was fraught with high risk.  To some, what we planned to achieve was impossible; an impossible challenge that we would not have been able to complete without the absolute highest levels of teamwork.

We accomplished an impressive feat that required a multitude and variety of differing skill sets to be drawn together.  This was not something that just one individual would accomplish on their own.  This was an expedition that would be undertaken by Jump4Heroes– an experienced and resourceful team.

And we were a team.  We functioned as one unit.  We’d known each other for 10 years and jumped together for over 5 years.  Between us we had almost 15,000 skydives and countless medals.  We valued each other and all bought hugely important skills to the table.  We weren’t there as individuals; we were one.

Each of us had our own, unique skill set.  We approached the expedition in different ways and with different views.  This mix of lateral thought processes complimented our team work- we were able to see the risks from differing view points and plan accordingly.

Our expedition didn’t go to plan- there were tree landings, mountain-side crashes, cameras bouncing down the north face and helicopter malfunctions.  If it wasn’t for the absolute unwavering trust that we’d developed through our teamwork, the results could have been catastrophic.  We’d planned and rehearsed, we’d mitigated risks and we knew what we were getting ourselves into- we had reduced our risks to an acceptable level.  We engaged the locals- experts in the area and, where we lacked specific skills, engaged Subject Matter Experts.  All of this was vital but, without a doubt, it was the teamwork that got us through.

There are a number of key components that made our teamwork a success in this environment.  However, none of them would have worked in isolation- the combination of these vital skills was integral to the success of our team work.  Three of the successful components within our formula are:

  • Unwavering Trust.  Without complete and utter confidence that each team member would do exactly what they had to do when they had to do it, with absolute precision, we could have ended with fatal consequences.  Unwavering trust in each and every team member was critical.
  • The Veto.  If a team member was not content with the decision and direction that we were taking then they could veto it.  We had to come to a solution that all team members felt comfortable with and took responsibility for.  This is a characteristic that will only work for some teams and in certain situations yet it was vital in this high-risk environment where team members were putting their lives on the line.
  • Recognition of Limitations.  We had to know not what our strengths were, but what our weaknesses were.  We had to forget our egos and examine our failings.  If we didn’t know where we, as individuals and team members, were failing, then we couldn’t mitigate the risks effectively.  We then reacted to our findings and engaged experts.  Most notably we bought in BASE jumping professional Chris “Douggs” McDougall not just as our aerial cameraman but with knowledge of the local area- he was able to add significant value and provide external mentorship.

The story of the expedition has been serialised in the print version of Blue Skies Mag and the build-up training published on the Jump4Heroes website.  There were so many lessons that I now use it as a central theme for one of my Keynote presentations.  I hope you enjoy the video, which was just released, and can see the teamwork that was vital to accomplishing our goal.

Question: What component of teamwork do you believe is the most important?

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  1. This is awesome awesome! Teamwork success secrets (or focuses, rather) for any line I’d say, with your example being an extreme, given life risk requirment making a great and powerful story.

    But even if not life-risk-level (for example, I think of “startup life”) this same kind of alignment is the ticket above all else.

    Thanks for sharing it so poignantly – in words, images, and example. Really nice one! #like

    • Thanks Ellen. Really glad you like it. These components of our formula can absolutely be applied to teamwork anywhere and in a huge variety of situations.

  2. Thanks George. You’re absolutely right. The planning for this expedition was huge and had a lot of important detail. Communication is also critical- I’ll probably make that a topic of another blog post.

  3. Trust must be the most important, but also good planning and communication.


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