In January 2006, I participated in an interesting experiment that taught me several solid lessons for organizing and leading diverse teams to success – in the face of a steep challenge.

I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. The highest free-standing mountain in the world and the tallest in Africa, Kili presents climbers with formidable obstacles. The first, of course, is its altitude. At more than 19,000 feet, it is almost a mile higher than any mountain in the lower 48 states.

At its peak, the oxygen in the air is about half that at sea level. Mountain sickness, caused by the body’s inability to adjust to this hostile climate, can be dangerous, even fatal. The final assault on the top, climbing more than 4,000 feet beginning at midnight, has been compared to running a marathon up a flight of stairs in a huge, dark deep freezer.

The mountain demands respect. Although Kili is a “hike” with few technical sections, it is by no means forgiving. Failure to sleep, eat and drink sufficiently will quickly sideline a climber. So will climbing too fast. And so, tragically, will unforeseen events like the avalanche that claimed three climbers’ lives while we were on the mountain.

Fortunately, our hardy group of 11, many of whom didn’t know each other before undertaking the Kili challenge, fared well, with 10 summiting – much better than the average.

What were the secrets to the success of this group of near strangers?