HBS Case Review: Mt. Everest Case Study
The case of Mt. Everest focuses on two commercial expeditions, Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness, and the tragic event on May 10, 1996. These two commercial expeditions were lead by Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, and were consisted of 20 members. Both leaders were experienced climbers, but due to several factors, the expedition resulted into five deaths including Hall and Fischer. The event has thought managers to evaluate the importance of leadership together with its internal and external factors that managers should consider to survive in the high risk business world.
Case Study Questions
1) Why did this tragedy occur and what are the root causes of this disaster?
The Mt. Everest tragedy occurred because of problems resulting from the relationship of cognitive bias, psychological safety, and complex system theory together with the specific leadership styles and team beliefs that were present with the people involved.
Cognitive bias is “a pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations, which may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality” (Wikipedia). In the case of Mt. Everest, irrationality was present throughout the members, including the leaders. For instance, Hansen’s statement “I’ve put too much of myself into this mountain to quit now, without giving it everything I’ve got” (Roberto and Carioggia, p.9) and Weather’s insistent in continuing to climb the mountain in spite of his one eye being completely blurred are both evidence of perceptual distortion. Another example is the knowledge of both Fischer and Hall regarding the strict “Two O’clock Rule” but both failed to implement it, showing inaccurate judgment. Finally, illogical interpretation of recent good weather on the mountain as something that will continue was irrational. These cognitive biases resulted in poor judgment and contributed to the failure of the team.
Psychological safety is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking” (JSTOR). The team members of the Mt. Everest showed lack of psychological safety throughout the members. Boukreeve from the Mountain Madness team showed this weakness with his concerns regarding his team’s overall level of readiness. Krakauer’s lack of trust towards his members was also evident with his statement, “For the most part I attributed my growing unease to the fact that I’d never climbed as a member of such a large group—a group of complete strangers, no less” (Roberto and Carioggia, p.5). The absence of psychological safety failed the teams to learn from each other, which weakened their performance and prevented them to create good relationship as a team.
Complex System Theory
The tragedy of Mt. Everest is not a result of one single mistake, but rather a result of multiple complex failures. This complexity is almost like a chain reaction that worsens the situation. Using Hall’s team as an example, problems started appearing before the team even started their expedition. First, the problem with the Russian boarder customs delayed the oxygen delivery. Second, a charter plane stalled the high-altitude tent delivery. Then the situation was worsened with the bad weather and conflict with the Nepali’s demand for a large wage increase. Another issue was the mistaken assumption by both Hall and Fischer of another team, the Montenegrin team, installing enough rope for the entire path to the summit. This was also worsened with the leadership style of Hall insisting that all clients should wait for the guides before proceeding. This safety procedure also slowed the team’s progression. All these events contributed to one large crisis that deteriorated as the team tried to reach the summit.
Cognitive Bias, Psychological Safety, and...
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