Financial Services | Executive Team | Formation

Mountain rescue team-effectiveness experience for a bank’s senior team

The CEO of an investment bank needed to accelerate the effectiveness of his new international leadership team.

Specifically he wanted a “crucible” experience which would build mutual understanding, be a platform for better and deeper team dialogue, and signal a shift towards a more trusting, collaborative, and collective mission-based way of working across the bank.

The ambition the team wanted to reach for

We spent time with the CEO and his Head Coach to craft an overarching inquiry statement as follows: “How do we need to be to achieve mission-led, trust-based, collaborative impact? At pace? Globally?”

This gave rise to 4 key questions (using an appreciative inquiry approach) which we weaved into the 36 hour experience.

Design parameters included:

  • Experiential and memorable
  • Corporate responsibility theme
  • 14 executives
  • 36 hours duration
  • CEO possibly unavailable for Day 2
  • Location within one hour of Edinburgh airport
  • This experience was to sit within a wider in-house development and communications programme

The solution we delivered

Against a storyline of Scottish mountain rescue teams having deployed to the Lake District to support the response to serious flooding, the bank was to pilot a rapid induction programme as a standby mountain rescue team supported by operational mountain rescue mentors.

We selected Dunblane as the venue. See later for the important reasons why we did so.

Once qualified they would be deemed operational, and other teams from the bank would notionally follow in their footsteps.

Why mountain rescue?

The success of each mountain rescue “call-out” depends on the trust, courage, commitment and mutual support of team members operating towards a common goal, and within the context of a wider multi-agency effort, often in very demanding circumstances.

Different leadership strategies are in play across multiple stakeholder communities, often concurrently. This was an immediate insight for the bank team who had expressed a desire to move away from a legacy leadership approach to another, quite different, singular approach. The insight? – Leaders need to master multiple leadership strategies (not to be confused with leadership style) and expertly deploy them in appropriate circumstances.

Why Dunblane?

Place and social setting have a powerful impact on how people think and act. And so we take great care to select amazing places that support the stories our clients want to tap into. Within the constraints of being “within an hour of Edinburgh” we selected Dunblane because:

  • The natural environment is inspiring and uplifting
  • The nearby monument to David Stirling, the founder of the Special Air Service, speaks to the high performing, mission-led, empowered team culture the client was seeking to develop
  • The success of tennis star and local boy Sir Andy Murray is testimony to a superb team effort that lies behind a powerful global brand
  • The town itself, which experienced the dreadful school shooting of 1996, is a model of collective resilience.

A closer look at design and delivery

Working with an operational mountain rescue team, the Day 1 programme saw the team progress through a variety of relevant competitive and collaborative skills sessions with facilitated time-outs to explore a sequence of appreciative inquiry questions directly related to the overarching inquiry theme. These were explored further over dinner during which they received the news that they would be on operational standby from 08:00 the next day.

Inevitably, a “call-out” tasking came in over breakfast Day 2. On top of this the CEO had to leave and attend meetings in Edinburgh. The pressure was now on for the team to establish leadership, organise themselves, work out how much information they needed to form a plan, and how much of a plan they needed to deploy.

Ultimately the team located the 2 casualties and were forced into a triage situation. Only one could be saved. Who would it be? And why?

A time-out followed during which, as the final element of their inquiry, participants stepped forward one by one to answer these questions:

“Right here, right now, with life and death at your feet, what are you (personally and collectively) committing to ditch? Step forward and write these on the bib of the dying casualty. What are you committing to start doing positively and differently? Step forward and write this on the bib of the “to live” casualty.”

This open act of commitment in front of colleagues completed the inquiry cycle and the team returned to “HQ” to watch a film. Read on.

Sharing their story of leadership and setting expectations…

We provided the team with an experienced film maker to work with their Comms director over the 36 hours to create a documentary style video that would capture the team’s answer to  the inquiry question.

This was shown at the debrief, approved by the team, and used within days to support town hall briefings around the world.


Hot debrief points included:

“It did exactly what was needed for a team at this current early state of maturity. It has started to give them a language and a set of principles we can build on.”

“The disclosure session was surprisingly powerful in breaking down personal barriers.”

“The feeling of acting as a team for perhaps the first time and the ensuing trust in the unit is palpable.”

“Superbly creative, original and professionally executed with good humour.”

And three months on:

“Three months on from the event the team experience is still very much alive in the day to day work of this leadership team as it undertakes its highly complex leadership task.”

“Referring to Dunblane acts as shorthand for the high performance and mutual expectations attained and agreed, and enables the team to quickly check in on its own performance.”

“The deeper levels of trust have remained allowing for better and more courageous conversations amongst the team.”

“The core messages of collaboration, trust and leadership were woven into a series of global town halls held following the event allowing for a cascade of key behavioural messages and expectations.”

“The differences between leading in complex rather than complicated environments have been well understood increasing the execution agility of the team.”

“The video footage has been exploited and shared multiple times with great effect. The wet and windy hills of Dunblane give audiences a sense of the seriousness of the team’s commitment to high performance, and stand in stark contrast to a typical luxury executive retreat.”