When failure does not exist team spirit moves mountains
November 2014. In Dubai the Wunderman Middle East team celebrates the birthday of CEO Nassib Boueri. The next day the agency plans a fitness challenge at a local gym with two competing teams: the creatives and CS. Nassib is asked on which side he wants to be. “None”, he says and comes with another challenge: “what if we make a team and hike Mount Kilimanjaro”?
Rising approximately 4,877 metres from its southern base in the plains, ascending Kilimanjaro in Tanzania isn’t exactly a walk in the park but when Nassib suggests the challenge everyone gets excited.
After he asks everyone to think it over and not get too enthusiastic, the next day Nassib sees that a few dozen of his Wunderman Middle East crew already volunteered. From then on things move quickly …
The power of a common desire
A meeting takes place, as the agency always does, a charity purpose gets picked, the organizers are invited for briefings and as the trip will last ten days it is decided that a team of 16 people will go as the agency of course needs to keep running. However, the others will have their chance too, for another challenge will certainly take place as Nassib says, filled with enthusiasm when we ask him about the Kilimanjaro experience for this blog post.
The first goal of the adventure is to gather enough funds for the supported charity, the Amani children’s home, and to cover expenses. With support from, among others WPP, Wunderman EMEA and several individuals 70% of the target is achieved. Yet, more importantly, enthusiasm and commitment is high and appreciated. So, the preparation for the adventure can begin.
Each team member starts training individually. Weekly activities are organised such as hiking in the Emirates, going to the gym together or climbing stairs and rapidly it becomes a weekly routine. At the same time everyone develops their own daily routines as they also have their own individual goals on top of the fundraising and the climb.
When individual goals meet collective goals on Uhuru Peak
“No one expected to reach the top of the mountain”, Nassib emphasizes. “It is a very difficult task and Kilimanjaro is considered as one of the most difficult hikes. Globally, for a full team, the success ratio to reach the first peak is around 70%. Furthermore, if you have 70% of the people making it to the first point, out of that only another 50-70% will make it to the highest peak”.
In other words: you simply can’t expect people to reach that goal and it was never seen as an expectation but rather a hope, a common desire.
At least as important as the common dream of a team of people were the individual goals. Nassib stresses: “I can assure you that each one of us had their own personal objective behind this. I had mine, others had theirs. So collectively, we stood behind one dedicated cause but individually each one of us had a cause”.
Despite – or because of – the fact no one was expected to make it all the way, on August 10th all 16 Wunderman Middle East hikers reached the highest peak, Uhuru Peak. Not only that but after a long, emotional journey they realised they were one of the few ever to do so with a 100% group success rate.
When Nassib told the whole story we were eager to know why he believed every single member of the team didn’t just achieve their personal goal but also the collective goal – or hope.
The true colours of individuals and the collective
Did it have anything to do with a collaborative culture of belonging?
Nassib Boueri: “It has to do with the family spirit and collective spirit that we have at the agency, yes! I think the team together collectively had a great spirit, a collective spirit. Everyone was encouraging and supporting everyone. No one wanted to give up because they didn’t want to give up on their colleagues and their team. So ultimately, it was a collective effort”.
Can we say the success depended on a mix of having a goal in mind, not forcing anyone to achieve it and the intent of each individual, supported by the others?
Nassib Boueri: “Yes, exactly. You cannot force on people to reach the top but together, as a team of individuals with something strong in common and no expectations or fear of failure, a term we didn’t even consider, everyone was giving their best shot. I think that’s what made us get up there, all of us. I was the last one to reach the top and, probably, if it wasn’t for my team I wouldn’t have made it there. The goal of raising money for the charity was achieved, whether we made it to the top or not. Collectively we helped each other reach our own goals and by doing so reach a collective dream. There was no room for failure because we had already succeeded. Failure was impossible, it didn’t even exist in our heads. We just went for it and made it.”
Was there a particular moment when the team really became more than a team?
Nassib Boueri: “We started as a team when we left for the airport. It comes with the spirit of the agency and working together. It’s as with clients where you collaborate and work towards a common purpose. We trained together and individually. We raised funds together. We reflected our collaborative team culture. Yet, the preparation was easy. It’s during the actual hike itself on the last day that the true colours of all individuals and of the collective show”.
A life-changing experience as a shared experience and collective expression of the will to give
And then you reach that peak, filled with emotions. Can you tell us about the journey and what you felt when reaching the top?
Nassib Boueri: “We started in the town of Kilimanjaro where we visited the children’s home that we are donating the charities to, the Amani children’s home. We spent the day with the children, we played with them, we had lunch with them, we just had a great, and very meaningful day.
The next day the hike began. The start was at 1700 meters and every day we would climb a further thousand meters on top of that, and stop to sleep and get used to the altitude. On the fourth day we were at 4700 meters. During that night, at 11PM, we woke up and started the final ascent to the top. It was long, it was tiring, it was hell, but we all made it.
At Mount Kilimanjaro you have 3 peaks. The first one is called Gilman’s Point. If you reach that one, you can claim you have hiked Kilimanjaro and reached the top. But, if you go around the crater of the volcano, you gain another 50 meters in altitude.
After an hour and 45 minutes more and after spending seven and half hours walking through the night at minus 15 degrees, when all of us reached the top which we never expected that all of us would make, we decided to go ahead and go to the second peak, Uhuru, which is the highest.
We were exhausted but when we reached that spot we felt overwhelmed with joy. There were tears, there were emotions and there was a big sense of satisfaction and achievement across everyone. When we walked back for a day and half we came back as changed people, very happy people who were able to give to each other, to the group, to the agency, to charity and simply to give back”.
Giving back; The true colours of the individual and the group and the power of working together. It’s easy to draw some lessons from that. But let’s not go there. And business isn’t what Nassib nor his team members had in mind when embarking on this amazing adventure.
It takes individuals and a team with a will to achieve something together, and that team is often broader than we think. Because, without the carriers, the supporters, the locals and even the mountain itself, this adventure wouldn’t have been possible. Everything is connected. Everyone matters.
Great teams move mountains. And so does the will to collaborate, achieve and give back.
Check out the videos, people, moments, images, joy, emotions and much more on the Facebook page of this great adventure.