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Team Building In Switzerland? Climb 82 Mountains, Naturally

Going uphill with coworkers in the Alps
Going uphill with coworkers in the Alps
Stéphane Herzog

GENEVA — Philippe Rey-Gorrez, founder of the software company Teamwork, has a passionate belief in what can be achieved in groups. And this self-taught IT engineer, officer in the French army at 18 and sports enthusiast has applied his passion to his work in a very real way: He offers the 280 employees of his Geneva-based company the possibility to live original experiences outside the office, “to be together and feel good,” he says.

From cooking classes to theater expeditions to European cities and sailing trips, the company — specialized in project and wealth management software — is not afraid of investing in its own employees.

But perhaps its most extreme team-building activity is mountain climbing, which took on a whole new scale after Rey-Gorrez set out a noteable challenge: for the company's employees to climb all 82 summits in the Alps with peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet).

The long adventure will come to an end this year. By then, a total of 50 employees will have taken part in the mountain trips and around 35 will have climbed at least once above 4,000 meters, some of them complete beginners.

But what exactly does this experience bring back to the workplace? “Everybody more or less fears the mountains,” explains Rey-Gorrez. “It’s a difficult environment, and mountain climbing requires risk control, without which you put the others’ lives in danger. It also implies that people really push themselves beyond the limits they thought they had.”

The environment also favors moments of intimacy and solidarity where people really get to know each other. "You see a colleague struggling and you help him: that’s real team- building rather than in the artificial settings, where employees are pushed into situations that are really more just uncomfortable," he explains.

Risk management

The Teamwork company takes care of the entire organization, from training the employees and finding guides to providing them with the equipment and accommodation. All they need to do is prepare themselves physically and bring their own clothes. They can follow all the information regarding the outings of the company’s Wiki page, a collaborative website.

The main focal point is security, although the director knows, as does as any real mountain dweller, that there is no such thing as zero risk and admits that any accident would have dramatic consequences for the company, with regards to both its workforce and its image.

Rey-Gorrez first came up with the idea for the Alps challenge after climbing the Matterhorn (4,478 meters high) with an employee and a guide. The desire to climb all of the highest peaks in the Alps emerged after watching a film on Patrick Berhault, a famous mountain guide with a passion for climbing who died in April 2004 during his attempt to climb all of the 82 Alps' 4,000-meter summits in 82 days.

Both beginners and seasoned climbers at Teamwork have been doing trip after trip since 2010. Some had no idea of how extreme the environment could be. About 15 employees decided against climbing the high altitudes. Others instead conquered the likes of Aiguille Verte, in the French Alps, sometimes even having to take two days off in the middle of the work week to make the most of good weather conditions.

In some cases, the boss wound up following the instructions of employees who were more experienced than him. It is just this kind of occasional assymetry that Rey-Gorrez is after with the following vision for his company: “A maximum of autonomy and a minimum of hierarchy.”

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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