Mount Everest
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Case context
10th May 1996, many climbers from two different groups (Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness) reached at worlds highest summit Mount Everest. However, five climbers lost their lives during descent. Rob Hall and Scott Fischer were among five persons who lost their lives. Rob Hall and Scott Fischer were group leader of their team Adventure Consultant and Mountain Madness, respectively; they were also having previous experience in climbing tough and dangerous mountain top. Case also reflects back on possible causes of tragedy with live accounts from Krakauer and Boukreev.

Case question and answer
Why did this tragedy occur? What was the root cause (s) of the disaster?
Not one but several factors were responsible for this tragedy. Some (including one survivor “Boukreev”) argues that human error caused the tragedy, while some (including one survivor “Krakauer”) blamed bad weather and other natural forces. Boukreev also acknowledged that it would be very difficult to know one single cause. Nonetheless, a detailed look at case suggests that a number of factors starting from poor logistics and indecisive leadership to lack of team cohesiveness were responsible for this tragedy. A series of interconnected failures and breakdowns created “domino effect” leading to tragedy. Let us visit some important root causes one by one.

Indecisive leadership: leadership failed on various count in this case whether it be fostering constructive dissent in the team or failure to comply with turnaround time. To start with leaders could not decide whether turnaround time to descent from summit should be 1PM or 2PM. It was the responsibility of leaders to analyze weather conditions and make appropriate decisions. Communications stopped between group members during crucial time. Leaders not only failed to analyzing and understanding weather conditions, but they also ignored Boukreevs concern regarding weather. Many climbers were not well and ready for expedition at base camp. Scott Fischer himself appeared exhausted right from the beginning. Leaders ignored these issues. Halls decision to accompany Doug Hansen towards the summit caused Hall to lose focus on priority for all other members, putting many lives in danger. Moreover, Rob Hall and Fischer

Lack of team cohesiveness and open communication: most climbers met at base camp for the first time and they did not spent time to understand each other. The groups developed a climate that was hostile to open discussion and constructive dissent. Expedition leader Hall went so far as to say, “I will tolerate no dissensionmy word will be absolute law.” Not surprisingly, people suppressed their concerns and doubts about some of the poor judgment and choices that were made during the climb. For instance, one survivor lamented that he did not “always speak up when maybe I should have.” One factor that contributed to the lack of candid discussion was the perceived differences in status among expedition members. For example, one climber said that he did not speak up when things began to go wrong because he “was quite conscious of his place in the expedition pecking order.” The unwillingness to question team procedures and exchange ideas openly prevented the group from revising and improving their plans as conditions changed.

If the team members had in first place worked together to know and understand each other, increased trust among them would have resulted in a far more successful expedition.

Poor logistics: logistics were not up to the mark right from the beginning. Delayed delivery of teams oxygen supply because of custom issue at a Russian border, problem in delivery of high altitude tent due to a problem with chartered flight, taking just few radios and conflict with Nepali porters leading to problem in supply of oxygen, list were endless. Fischer lost his focus and energy dealing with these logistics issues. Other climbers also suffered because of these logistics issues.

Are tragedies like this simply inevitable in a place like Everest?
Risk is there in any activities and it is more so when it comes to climbing worlds highest summit. Inherent risks can be managed by careful planning and smart decisions. One cannot fight with natural disasters due to its unpredictability and violent forces but once can certainly choose his/her own battle. Many lives could have been saved with better decision making, effective leadership and better planning.

What is your evaluation of Scott Fischer and Rob Hall as leaders?
The Everest 1996 tragedy suggest that leaders need to balance competing forces such as confidence, dissent and commitment.
In this case leaders could not balance between over confidence and insufficient confidence. While insufficient confidence may lead to apprehension among team members, over confidence may lead to arrogant behaviors leading to costly mistake. Balance, in this case, was tilted in favor of over confidence. Rob Hall and Scott Fischer were overconfident on various occasions due to their experience in climbing.

Secondly, leaders must balance the need for strong buy-in against the danger of escalating

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Rob Hall And Scott Fischer. (April 2, 2021). Retrieved from