Kilimanjaro: Finding opportunities and overcoming obstacles - By David Lim

This article is extracted from the "Team Management Systems Case Studies Collection" and is reprinted here with kind permission of the author.


The dream began - a dream to form an all-disabled international team of mountaineers to tackle one of the difficult routes on Mount Kilimanjaro. At 5895m, Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano that dominates the Tanzanian skyline around the small town of Moshi. Its vertical relief makes it soar 3000 meters from its base. Its summit still retains snow, and with its extreme altitude, is a challenge for all comers. While its trekking routes see thousands try their luck on its slopes via the walking routes, very few attempt its ice routes. The average success rate of getting to the summit is 50%.

 The Team

With the mindset of pushing the envelope, the team that I eventually gathered across three continents ventured that we should attempt the Credner Glacier route, a rarely attempted snow and ice route. The team comprised myself from Singapore; Paul Pritchard, a Welshman; Peter Steane, a native Tasmanian; and Jamie Andrew from Scotland.

Voltaren Kilimanjaro Team

Voltaren Kilimanjaro Team

All of us had significant climbing experience but had faced disability through a catastrophic incident that transformed our lives. I contracted the rare nerve disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 1998 and was paralyzed completely, spending six months in hospital. I now have a right leg that does not work below the knee and various other neuron-muscular deficits in my left hand and left leg. Jamie is a quadruple amputee without hands and feet, having suffered amputations from severe frostbite when trapped near the summit of the Droite in the Alps. After a forced bivouac in -30 degree conditions for five days, he was plucked to safety. His friend and climbing partner died of hypothermia the previous day. Peter had sustained a fall while climbing in 1982, damaging nerves, and now walks with the aid of lower leg calipers. Paul was arguably Britain's leading extreme mountaineer with various achievements in setting up wildly risky and difficult new routes around the world. One British media owner even dubbed him "Dr Death". Paul is now hemi-plegic with the right side of his body paralyzed and with no use of his right arm after a rock fall on the famed Totem Pole sea-stack in Tasmania.


 Preparing with Team Management Systems

As an accredited Team Management Systems (TMS) trainer, I arranged for the entire Voltaren Kilimanjaro team to receive their Team Management and QO2TM Profiles. Though most of the research, logistics, spadework and fundraising had been accomplished by me, I felt it would be interesting to share our work preferences via the Team Management Profile and to assess our orientation to risk via the QO2TM Profile.

Paul's current vocation as a journalist in environmental issues matched his major role preference of Reporter-Adviser. Peter, a teacher, weighed in heavily on the Controller-Inspector role preference, with me as an Assessor-Developer and unofficial ringmaster (Linker) of the whole show. Jamie had a major role preference of Thruster-Organiser. Peter was at the extreme end of the introversion scale with me at the other end (an extrovert). Paul and Jamie were in the middle. We knew we would have to be aware of Pacing, either voicing opinions more often or suppressing unnecessary chatter, depending on our audience within the team.

Margerison-McCann Team Management Wheel

Margerison-McCann Team Management Wheel

In terms of the Opportunities-Obstacles scale, our QO2TM score ranged from the lower end for Peter and myself (1.6 and 1.8 respectively) to the higher scores of Jamie and Paul (2.4 and 3.7 respectively). More critically, most of us, especially Paul and I had high MTG Energy (97%) and high Multi-Pathways scores.

The results were to prove insightful.

The Risk-Orientation Model

The Risk-Orientation Model


 The Expedition

We met several obstacles such as very bad weather, which saw two local porters from another team dying elsewhere on the mountain. We also had route-finding problems which forced us to switch our goal to the Western Breach face. At these stages the QO2TM Profiles were helpful, as was the balance in the team.

Our team was evenly balanced between the somewhat cautiously optimistic goal-seekers, and the other half, a decidedly more 'gung-ho' group. This proved to be useful whenever Paul (QO2TM 3.7) waxed optimistically in spite of bad weather and ill-health. It helped balance our emotional yo-yoing as the expedition faced some really bad weather. For Paul, it helped him believe he could succeed on this climb, despite a retreat at one stage from fluid in his lungs, the potentially lethal condition known as Pulmonary Edema.

The higher Fault-Finding scores of Peter and myself assisted by giving measured views of the risks and obstacles ahead. When Jamie and Paul remained extremely optimistic (Jamie's Optimism score was 73%; Paul's Optimism score was 95%!), I knew where they were coming from. This, combined with a lot of 'thrusting' and encouragement from Jamie (the group's Thruster-Organiser), helped us to resolve obstacles along the way and keep the team moving towards its goal. As overall expedition coordinator, my knowledge of TMS helped me assess situations and decisions in the expedition. For example, I would not have appreciated Jamie's 'just do it' tendency unless I was privy to his Profile.

My own high MTG Energy was a match to Paul's 97% score and this, I believe, kept us plodding ahead regardless of setbacks. Despite the catastrophic personal losses we suffered collectively, our Time Focus focused in the present. The nature of strenuous expeditions means often looking at ever-changing resources and scenarios. We lived day by day.

At a critical stage of the expedition, we decided that our original goal to climb the peak, unsupported on the summit push, had to be given up. The route-finding was to prove too difficult with our disabilities, and the bad visibility meant we had to switch our goal to an easier route, the Western Brach. That being said, the Breach route is hard to reverse, and is the most difficult of all the normal routes. It also required some scrambling over terrain no less than 45 degrees, and some exposed sections. With heavy snow, the outcome was uncertain. Our problem-solving abilities were measured under the Multi-Pathways subscale. Mine was 81%, as was Paul's while Jamie's was 83% and Peter's was 69%. With a rather high score, we found it a breeze to look at our resources, size up the options, and make the decisions to bring us victory - and that was to complete the climb together, as a team.

We communicated unreservedly about what we could not physically do, owing to our disabilities. So Paul eventually climbed without a rucksack, his balance being poor. Peter, having the only pair of good hands among the four of us, carried the rope and gave Paul a safety belay with it on the short, steep sections. I kept fixing Jamie's crampon straps on the summit climb. One underestimation on my part on the final stretch was the ability of Paul to make the last 300 meters up the soft and steep snow of the volcano's rim. He looked exhausted. But with a 97% MTG Energy score, Paul doggedly kept at it and was the last to make the summit at 3pm that day. I had ignored his QO2TM Profile for a moment earlier, and was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong.



We summated Kilimanjaro on January 18th at about 3pm, and struggled through a long and arduous 24-hour summit day before arriving back at our campsite at 12:30am the next day.

The Voltaren Kilimanjaro Challenge was one of the most harmonious, if not the happiest, expeditions that I have ever put together. The Profiles helped in our success. Being able to leverage the various strengths of certain team members in different scenarios was important to our climb.

The Kilimanjaro climb was a powerful application of the Profiles to help a team understand each other's differences in the realm of risk-taking and, an affirmation that sometimes, extreme altitudes demand extreme attitudes - if the goal is to be met.


 About the Author

David Lim
Chief Motivation Officer
Everest Motivation Team Pte Ltd

David Lim is best known in Singapore for leading the 1st Singapore Mt Everest Expedition in 1998 which succeeded in placing two members on the summit. The climb captured the imagination of the entire country and helped reset the parameters of what could be achieved by the small, flat, tropical island nation.

A week after his return from Everest, he was totally paralyzed by the rare nerve disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Artificially ventilated for 42 days, he spent six months in hospital before returning home, partially disabled. Though he was permanently disabled in both legs, he made a dramatic comeback to climbing the world's great mountains, and returned once more to Everest in 2001. David was educated in Singapore and Britain; and graduated with a law degree from Magdalene College, Cambridge University. In the corporate world, David spent nearly a decade in the media industry with positions in marketing, journalism management and multimedia. David is author of Mountain to Climb and Against Giants.

He heads Everest Motivation Team, an organization delivering programs designed to bring out the best in teams through a combination of coaching, cognitive behaviour profiling, and adventure-based experiential learning. David and his team have delivered programs and keynote presentations in 21 countries and 40 cities worldwide.



Adaptability to change in adverse conditions simply amplifies the need to utilise all available resources to the maximum. Two invaluable personal and team develop profiles, as shown in the foregoing article, are the Team Management Profile (TMP) and the QO2TM (Opportunities-Obstacles Quotient). They enable teams and individuals to maximise their potential in changing times. Are the teams you can influence maximising their potential?

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