1996 Everest Case Study

Introduction:
This case study focuses on two mountaineering companies, Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness, and what went wrong on May 10, 1996, when a total of five climbers from these two teams died while on a final summit push on Mount Everest. Even more troubling is the fact that two of these people, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, were the leaders of the companies, and each had impressive experience on Everest. Many factors combined to create this tragedy, including weather, varying ability of climbers, and sickness.
However, one glaring error no the part of each company’s leadership stands out as a decision that may very well have cost all five lives: Neither Hall nor Fisher established or enforced a turnaround time for team members attempting to reach the summit. Why did Hall and Fisher both fail to turn their teams around at 2pm, as is common practice? Furthermore, why did no one else suggest or demand that the teams turn around at 2pm? An analysis of the team dynamics and the conditions surrounding the teams point to three main reasons: An escalation of commitment on the part of leadership; cognitive biases within leadership, and a lack of team dynamics conducive to constructive dissent.
The main issue facing both Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness, therefore, is how to ensure that this sort of failure in leadership and team dynamics does not happen again, considering the high stakes environment in which their teams operate.
Analysis:
Members of both teams, including each team’s expedition leader, made a mistake that groups in many situations make when faced with ‘sunk costs’ such as time, energy and money spent: they carried on to the summit past the recognized turnaround time for allowing a safe descent. Sniderman re ...
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