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Escalation of Commitment in Temporary Organisations: A Case Study of the 1996 Mt. Everest Disaster
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Umeå School of Business.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Umeå School of Business.
2010 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]


In an organisation, escalation of commitment represents behaviour of decision makers who become committed to failing courses of action. This behaviour usually derives from the decision makers’ reluctance to acknowledge their failed action in the initial allotment of time and resources, and thus taking actions to manifest their prior decision were correct and they will be achieving the planned goal.


In a single day of 1996 during a climbing expedition destined to summit Mt Everest, eight people lost their lives, including the climbing team leaders, in part due to the decision made that led to the teams to engage in escalation behaviour.  The climbing teams in the 1996 Mt Everest expedition serve as examples of temporary organisations in an extreme setting. The purpose of the research is to explore insights on the aspects promoting escalation on the Mt Everest tragedy and shed some light into how escalation manifests in temporary organisations. The factors that might be found will be applicable only to this particular case; nevertheless they might contribute on the overall development of how escalation comes about in temporary organisations. The research question of this study is how aspects promoting escalation where present in the 1996 Mt. Everest expedition?


For many years different theories attempted to explain the factors that promote escalation behaviour. The most important theories were combined together into a theoretical framework developed by Staw and Ross (1987a), which contains four major determinants of commitment in escalation: project, psychological, social and organisational. This framework is applied in this qualitative study based on the 1996 Mt Everest case. The study was executed through the analysis of the firsthand accounts of the survivors and observers present on the mountain that year as well as mass media outputs, the framework of escalation was used as an assistance tool for making sense of the findings the research may produce.


The results of the study managed to place the line of events in the determinants framework and identified all four types of determinants of commitment taking place through the progress of the expedition. A new organisational determinant of commitment was found (pursuit of enterprise growth) which yielded significant practical implications and might also lead the way for future research on escalation of commitment in temporary organisations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. , 86 p.
Keyword [en]
Escalation, temporary organisations, Mt. Everest disaster 1996
National Category
Business Administration
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-31831OAI: diva2:296035
Social and Behavioural Science, Law
Available from: 2010-02-25 Created: 2010-02-17 Last updated: 2010-02-25Bibliographically approved

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Pustina, AferditaAegerter Alvarez, Juan Felipe
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