Reflections on Teams

     Linda Beilharz


A well functioning team is essential for icecap expeditions, where a team can literally only achieve as much as its slowest team member can manage. In the history of polar exploration and travel there have been a wide variety of teams, some which have disasterous experiences as team members pull against each other and others which have fully enjoyed the benefits of an effective team. I have heard of teams which have put great energy into team building but have in the end splintered apart with members no longer speaking to each other. I have experienced travelling in teams where we had not met each other prior to starting the trip – and enjoying fantastic support, encouragement and cooperation. Often it is impossible to predict how your fellow team members will react to the stresses of an expedition and therefore what responses will have an impact on the team as a whole. Several qualities that individuals bring to their team, however, stand out as being important for a good team. These are:

  • being generous – recognising that in times of stress that extra generosity can assist someone when they are under pressure. Being generous means being helpful and maintaining the belief that the other person has the best intentions – even if they are being grumpy for now.
  • sharing the load – you can literally take the weight off someone’s shoulders by taking weight out of their sled and giving them a bit of a break if they need it. Being attentive to each other and noticing when help would be beneficial is part of this.

Foundational attributes that make you a more resilient adventurer and a more positive member of a team include:

  • attitudes that include: taking responsibility for your actions and approach, being organised and ‘ahead of the game’, believing the best of others, a good understanding of yourself and the ability to do something when you realise you are becoming stressed.
  • interpersonal communication – share how you are going, respond to others, raise concerns – in other words be a consistent, warm and reasonable participant in group interactions.
  • self awareness – it helps enourmously when you are aware of your emotions, what they are triggered by, how they influence your behaviour and how you can shift negative emotions.


At some point in our preparation for the NOrth Pole expedition we wrote the following document about our ideal team member. We did not do interviews or use it in any way to screen participants but simply to share with each other what we beleived is important.

Team requirements

 3 or 4  members

Key characteristics

Experience in cold and long trips


Comfortable with trips of two months duration or more (cramped conditions, little washing, personal space)

Able to manage in cold conditions (-20 to -40) – can avoid frostbite, manage sleeping, manage to keep gadgets etc warm and accessible

Endurance – physical and mental


Able to maintain a hard workload for many days. Able to maintain a workload when daily routine becomes monotous and route unvaried.  Able to manage own emotions.

Team focus


Recognises the importance of team wellbeing and progress over individual goals. Generous and patient with fellow team members at all times. Able to communicate well with team members.

First aid, shooting, hauling, navigation,


Within the team these skills are required by several if not all members.


Humour, resourcefulness,


helpful – very helpful

Healthy and fit


High level of fitness required

Manageable medical conditions can be OK if there is a long experience of self management under high workload conditions.

Willingness to put into preparation and trip


Fitness training


Public speaking