You are here

  1. Home
  2. Alumni
  3. Professional Knowledge Bank
  4. Triage in the Mountains

Triage in the Mountains

An experiential approach to exploring team resilience.

Author Dave Stewart 

Dave is an OUBS MBA alumnus who has led at executive and non-executive director level in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. 

He set up the Fresh Air Leadership Company to help leaders work out who they are and what it means to lead well in their worlds.

In this article Dave documents a development event that put into practice the ‘Fresh Air’ learning approach which is rooted in experiential learning and inquiry-based methods such as action inquiry and appreciative inquiry. 

Typically these feature cycles of reflective off-site exploration and on-site experimentation. It is an approach that is grounded in real work issues and helps people ‘learn by doing’ and search for the possibilities that lie beyond the presenting problems.


The regional director of a bank wanted help to deepen the personal and collective resilience of his leadership team ahead of a difficult organisational restructure. 

We conducted one-to-one telephone conversations with each of the team to explore what resilience meant to them. What emerged was a desire to know one another better, to be able to hold courageous conversations, and to develop their capacities to offer, ask for, and accept support from one another. 

Then what?

We designed a 3-day appreciative inquiry around the central question of how the team could become the most resilient team possible - one that could continue to serve the bank’s customers, care for staff, and look after one another during the coming rough period. 

Weaving in and out of the inquiry process - and generating lots of opportunities for reflection, new insights, fresh conversations, and laughter - was the team’s preparation as a ‘Downed Aircrew Response Team (DART)’. The DART ‘device’ – as in any good drama - was not accidental. It was purposefully rich in metaphor, and we spent time on exploring this. 

We based ourselves in a bunkhouse in the Brecon Beacons. The team lived together and took turns planning and cooking meals. This alone provided a very simple yet powerful way to get to know each other. Spending time around a campfire, sharing stories and laughter under the stars, further deepened the connections. 

A number of skills exercises – navigation, first aid, and improvised rescue - saw team members operate in different constellations (e.g. pairs, threes, fours etc.) and contexts (e.g. competition and collaboration). These were pre-framed and debriefed – sometimes subtly and sometimes more overtly - in the service of the underlying inquiry. 

After a day of training the team was ready to go operational! They were duly called out for a downed aircraft in a scenario that precluded helicopter support. The storyline also had other South Wales rescue teams deployed elsewhere. And so the newly trained DART team headed out into the hills on what was to be an independent, unsupported mission. 

Operating as two patrols, and using their navigation and radio communication skills, they homed in on the casualties. It became immediately clear that the male aircrew member was on the point of dying and the other, a female aircrew member, was very likely to live. With limited resources and no prospect of external support the DART team faced an agonizing, yet very clear triage decision. 

At this point the exercise was paused. Standing by the shores of a mountain tarn, looking down on two simulated casualties, team members were asked to reconnect with the inquiry process and the design phase of the team’s resilience. 

One by one team members stepped forward to write on the fluorescent bibs of the casualties. On the dying casualty they wrote the things they would now leave behind. On the casualty who would survive and thrive they wrote the things they would carry forward. 

Everyone bore silent witness to what felt like a solemn ceremony of commitment. The nature of the act, and its remote stimuli-rich location, served to create a highly memorable event. Further ‘grounding’ was achieved when the team used their improvised stretcher skills to carry the ‘resilient team’ casualty downhill and round a knoll, leaving the dying ‘old team’ casualty behind and disappearing from view. 

The walk back to the bunkhouse was a pensive one, and the processing was to continue for some days and weeks after the event. We will leave the story at this point and let the participants have the final words. 

So what? 

We have had conversations these last few days that we could never have imagined having back at work, or indeed in any traditional workshop environment.

Bank Regional Manager

I surprised myself when, having been silent for so long and as a woman, I cut across the male dominated conversation and told everyone very pointedly that the quality of our conversation had to change from here on in; that we needed to get real with one another, and engage fully, no more masks. It wasn’t a courage thing; I just felt compelled to say it!

Bank Assistant Regional Manager

The parallels between relying on each other in the outdoors and the daily corporate challenges were powerful and thought provoking. Building collaboration in a competitive environment is a challenge for us all and if done well the result is a truly sustainable and successful business. Thank you for helping us achieve this. The lessons will be long remembered.

Bank Regional Director

 © Dave Stewart, 2014
Updated 2022

Would you like to contribute an article towards our Professional Knowledge Bank? Find out more.