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Mount everest 1996 case study

06/01/2021 Client: saad24vbs Deadline: 24 Hours


Running head: Mt. Everest Tragedy Case Study

Mt. Everest Tragedy Case Study


The case study of Mount Everest in 1996 describes a tragic loss of lives as

expedition teams attempted to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. Although multiple

teams were at Mt. Everest in May 1996, the case study focuses primarily on three

climbing expeditions and their endeavor to reach the summit. Adventure Consultants, led

by Rob Hall, Mountain Madness led by Scott Fischer and the IMAX team, led by David

Breashears. Climbing Mt. Everest is a dangerous and physically demanding experience

under the best conditions for even the most skilled climber, due to the treacherous

landscape, high altitude and dangerous weather conditions. In addition to the physical

conditions and complex logistics, the uniqueness of the individuals undertaking the climb

creates additional challenges. Analysis of the leadership styles and team dynamics

discussed in the case study demonstrate additional challenges faced by the expedition

teams climbing Mt. Everest. The leadership styles and group dynamics negatively

impacted communication among the team members.

In the case study of Mt. Everest, glimpses of the different styles of leadership

provide insight into various styles of leadership and how it impacted the climbing

expeditions. According to McShane and Von Glinow (2013), “leadership is about

influencing, motivating, and enabling others to contribute toward effectiveness and

success of the organizations of which they are members (p. 350). Although there are

competencies that are inherent with leadership such as skills, knowledge, and aptitudes,

the primary leadership competencies are related to “personality, self-concept, drive,

knowledge of the business and cognitive and practical intelligence” (McShane and

Glinow, 2013 p. 353). High levels of extroversion and conscientiousness are strong

predictors of successful leaders. Leaders also tend to have a consistent and confident


self-evaluation, including high self-esteem, self-efficacy and internal locus of control and

identify themselves as a leader (McShane and Von Glinow, 2013, p. 353). Drive is

described as the leaders‟ inner motivation to pursue goals and to encourage their team to

accomplish team and organizational goals. Leaders tend to have a strong inner

motivation, a high need to achieve and a desire for socialized power in order to achieve

organizational goals. In addition to leaders‟ personal qualities, a leader must have a

strong knowledge of the business. McShane and Von Glinow describe business

knowledge as a “tacit and explicit knowledge about the company‟s environment”, which

enables them to make more intuitive decisions. Cognitive and practical intelligence

enables the leader to process large amounts of complex information in order to solve

problems in their work environment by adapting to various situations or selecting

appropriate environments. Emotional intelligence is also important for a leader in order

to monitor his own emotions as well as others‟ emotions and to use the information to

guide his decisions and actions. Each of the team expedition leaders exhibited strong

leadership competencies but demonstrated different styles as well.

Rob Hall (Adventure Consultants), a thirty-five year old New Zealander, was

described as being the potential “Mayor of Base Camp” due to his commanding presence,

intensity and focus. Although he is described as having a sense of humor, his confidence

and climbing skills served him well in leading past expeditions. Hall had successfully

taken thirty –nine amateur climbers to the summit. According to the text, “could not be

in safer hands and was perceived as the best in the industry.” He was also noted for

being extremely organized in the way he ran his expeditions. His marketing material

describes his company as “the world leader in Everest climbing”.


Hall controls his team and directs their schedule of eating, sleeping and climbing. Hall is

described as meticulous in his planning and attention to detail. Because of Hall‟s

reputation, he hired seven well-respected Sherpas who also were loyal to him and

respected his abilities. According to the behavioral perspective of leadership, Hall‟s

leadership style would be considered task-oriented rather than people-oriented as his

focus was on setting goals and deadlines, clarifying procedures and planning activities.

He also is a charismatic leader with a sense of humor combined with “unmistakable

intensity and focus”. His group is instructed that „his word is law on the mountain‟. Hall

demonstrates both expert and referent power in his leadership role.

The American leader, Scott Fischer, (Mountain Madness), age forty-one is also an

excellent climber whose “credentials are impeccable” (Breashears, Hansen and Van der

Hayden, 2011, p.2). However, for his Mountain Madness guiding company, it will be the

first expedition to Mt. Everest. The case study describes him as „physically impressive‟

and also having a „magnetic personality‟. Fischer‟s demeanor is more easy-going and

less imposing than Rob Hall‟s, however, his colleagues state that he is also „charismatic‟.

While Hall controls scheduling and training and is involved in every detail of the

expedition, Fischer is more laid back and is more flexible with his team members‟

schedule. Rather than coordinate group acclimation training, he allows everyone to

acclimate individually. Fischer tends to be more people-oriented than task-oriented.

Although his company is not as well known as Hall‟s company, he also demonstrates

expert and referent power.

The leader of the IMAX Expedition, David Breashears is also an American who

has climbing experience and had previously broadcast live television pictures from the


summit in 1983. Breashears describes himself as a micromanager. His assistant leader is

Ed Viesturs whose reputation for reliability and resourcefulness earned him the name

“Steady Ed”. On May 8, Breashears consults his senior leaders Viesturs and Schauer

because of the concerns regarding the strong winds and the number of people climbing.

Although it is tempting to proceed, their instincts and experience enable them to make a

difficult decision, but one that made among all three of the men based on their knowledge

and experience. Even though Breashears wonders if they made the right decision later

and is almost embarrassed to tell Rob Hall about the delay, his cautiousness and the

leadership team decision-making proved to be a wise decision. He also demonstrated

leadership in making the difficult decision that one of his clients could not continue the

climb, even though her climb to the summit would have increased the IMAX marketing

in Japan. Breashears realized he could lose publicity and financial profit, but he was

concerned about her physical condition and made an accurate assessment of her ability to

climb to the summit, even though she wanted to continue. Breashears describes himself

as a „micromanager‟ and from the case study description, appears to be detail-oriented

and goal-oriented. Although he is an experienced climber and cinematographer, he does

not stand out as dramatically as Hall and Fischer in their leadership roles. However,

Breashear assembled a team with diverse talents to accomplish the team goal of obtaining

IMAX footage from the summit, which will be a “technical and logistical feat”. He has

anticipated and planned for emergencies such as paying for extra oxygen bottles and

obtaining a second permit in case it was needed to accomplish their climb and ultimate

goal. Breashears also relied on his senior leaders such as Ed Viestears, who also

demonstrates expert power and knowledge. Breashears consults with his two other


leaders when he has to make tough decisions, recognizing the value of divergent thinking

and problem-solving. For each of the leaders, although reaching the summit was the

ultimate goal, developing an effective team may have had a positive impact on reaching

their goal.

The tragedy on Mount Everest clearly illustrates the many issues associated with

team dynamics that can negatively impact group processes and goal achievement.

McShane and Von Glinow define teams as „a group of two or more people who interact

and influence each other and who are mutually accountable for achieving common goals

associated with organizational objectives, and perceive themselves as a social entity

within the organization (McShane& Von Glinow, 2013, p 246). Even though the

expedition groups were referred to as „teams‟, they lacked many of the characteristics

typically related to teams and teamwork. Although the teams had the same goal of

reaching the summit, each individual within the expedition had their own personal

agendas for accomplishing their goal and were more focused on achieving their

individual goal rather than focusing on an overall team goal. For example, several of the

individuals in the Adventure Consultants Team such as Hansen and Weathers had

medical issues that complicated their chances of reaching the summit. Each was

determined to accomplish their goal even if it impacted the other team members and

caused additional risk for the group. Anatoli Boukreev was supposed to function as a

guide, but because his goal was to climb without the bottled oxygen, he had to head back

down the summit quickly and return to camp, rather than serve as a guide. However, the

IMAX team appeared to function more smoothly as a group, possibly because of their


common goal of producing the IMAX footage. Effective teams work towards a common

goal with the priority being the entire group and accomplishment of group goals.

“When developing a team, it helps a great deal to have some basic sense of the

stages that a typical team moves through when evolving into a high-performing team.

Awareness of each stage helps leaders to understand the reasons for members‟ behavior

during that stage, and to guide members to behavior required to evolve the team into the

next state “(http://managementhelp.org/grou/dynamics-theories.htm). As McShane and

Von Glinow (2013) state, teams typically proceed through several developmental phases

before evolving into a high functioning group (p. 235). Developing relationships with

each other and developing trust in each other is important in developing roles and

behaviors of the group. Working together over a longer period of time helps them to

develop mutual understanding and effective group behaviors. Particularly in the

Adventure Consultants team and Mountain Madness team, the team members barely

knew each other and had not spent time developing as a group before the Mt. Everest trip.

The group had not had the opportunity to gather over periods of time to develop the

organization and team cohesion needed to cope with the extreme conditions of the climb.

One model describes team development as moving systematically through stages called

forming, storming, norming and performing. The stages describe a team getting to know

each other and developing expectations and boundaries of behavior in the forming phase.

Establishing norms and experiencing interpersonal conflict occur in the storming stage.

In the norming stage, teams establish roles, agree on team goals, form team mental

models and develop cohesion (McShane and Von Glinow, 2013, p. 237).



Without having the opportunity to develop as a team , Hall and Fischer‟s expeditions

appeared to lack team cohesion. Team size may have been a contributing factor in

developing a cohesive team. Smaller teams tend to be more cohesive than teams with

larger numbers of members since it is easier to agree on goals and coordinate work

activities (McShane and Glinow, p. 246). Highly cohesive teams develop better

relationships and are sensitive to others‟ needs in addition to sharing information more

frequently, committing to team goals and providing social support in stressful situations.

In addition, highly cohesive teams are comfortable addressing conflict, raising questions

and offering different opinions. When conflict arises, the team resolves their differences

effectively and respects divergent thinking of other team members. Hall had made it

clear that his “word was law on the mountain” and he would not tolerate dissension.

Both Hall and Fischer had stated that the turnaround time was a definite, unbreakable rule

however, when the turnaround time arrived, no one spoke up to question Hall or Fischer

or recommend that for the safety of the group, they needed to descend to camp.

Breashears‟ team leaders had a difficult decision to make when they altered their

climbing schedule. However, Breashears consulted with his two other leaders, discussed

options and although they hated delaying the climb, they relied on their experience,

knowledge and instincts to make the decision and discussed their decision with their

team. The IMAX team focused on the team goal of achieving the climb and obtaining

the best results for the IMAX footage.

Any relationship, including the relationship among team members depends on a

certain degree of team trust. Trust refers to positive expectations one person has toward

another person in situations involving risks (McShane & Von Glinow, 2013, p. 242). The


group members trusted their own leaders immensely but had not developed trust in each

other or in their own ability to speak up when questioning a decision. The teams did not

have open communication that encouraged discussing problems and concerns that may

have determined a revision in plans as the conditions changed. Although Fischer had

hired Boukreev to serve as a guide and work with the team members, his aloofness and

poor English contributed to his lack of interaction with the other team members. Fischer

confronted him that he had hired him to “mingle with the team – not just to work hard

high on the mountain”. The expedition members trusted their leaders and were very

dependent on the leaders, but had not developed the team cohesiveness needed to

function and communicate as a high performing team.

Cohesive teams are able to communicate openly with each other, even while

expressing concerns or questioning behaviors. The ability to communicate openly and to

address potential conflicts are valuable characteristics in achieving team goals.

Recognizing the value in divergent thinking helps leaders and their teams evaluate

situations and potential alternatives for problem-solving. Cohesive teams are able to

address conflicts effectively. Although conflicts can have a negative impact, conflicts

can also lead to better decision-making, by testing the logic of arguments and questioning

assumptions (McShane & Von Glinow, 2013, p. 318). Conflict can also lead to

additional responsiveness in changing environments and stronger team cohesion.

Constructive conflict exists when the discussion is centered on the issue while showing

respect for various opinions offered by individuals. The Mt. Everest teams would have

benefited from open communication regarding their plans and alternatives. For example,

since Hall had reinforced that his „word was law‟ and that discussion was not an option,


team members were not encouraged to express opinions. In both Fischer and Hall‟s

team, the group had not developed the team trust or cohesiveness needed to encourage

open communication and conflict resolution. Strong team cohesion promotes trust and

open communication and the ability to address conflict constructively in a respectful

manner, while honoring the opinions of others. Supportive team norms also encourage

openness and honest discussion in order to resolve conflict, address problems and

communicate concerns.

McShane and Von Glinow (2013) state that “communication is the lifeblood of all

organizations…” (p. 260). Teams rely on open communication, team cohesiveness and

trust in order to work effectively towards their goal. Achieving the ambitious goal of

climbing Mt. Everest brought together a group of individuals led by experienced and

competent leaders. Each leader demonstrated his own unique leadership style which

impacted the formations of the teams and the communication among the team members.

Although each individual team member as well as the leaders focused on the goal of

reaching the summit of Mt. Everest, the team members did not question decisions which

affected the safety of the entire team. In retrospect, the leadership styles and the team

dynamics impacted open communication which may have affected the outcome of the

tragedy on Mt. Everest.



Breashears, D., Hansen, M., Van der Hayden, L., (2011). Tragedy on Everest, INSEAD –

The Business School for the World., 1-15.

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