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Sink or Swim Case Study

Sink or Swim Case Study

Identification of the Main Issues

Making decisions is a critical role of organizational leaders and executives. To that end, most leaders know that it is their role to make decisions, even when urgently needed. However, a problem arises when these leaders have to make high-stakes, unfamiliar, and big-bet decisions (Cosentino et al., 2020). A recent example of how firms struggle with decision-making is the current COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic arrived at an overwhelming and enormous scale such that organizational leaders had difficulty making crucial managerial decisions.

As an organization, SWIM is challenged to make critical decisions in uncertain times. That is a normal phenomenon in business, but it needs a fast and well-thought-out resolution framework that will come in handy (Cosentino et al., 2020). Avoiding or ignoring uncertainty is not an option for the company. They have to make the much-awaited decision despite the overwhelming uncertainty. As the firm tries to make urgent decisions, it faces three major issues. First, leadership conflict is possible since the three co-presidents share the decision-making role. Also, the organization meets time constraints and confirmation bias as it attempts to decide on the conference.

Analysis/Evaluation of the Issues

Decision-Making Conflict Between Managers

One of the problems evident in the Sink case scenario is a possible conflict among the organization’s leaders. Currently, Sink has three presidents: Rachel, Leah, and Tarin. As warned by past presidents, the three are likely to find themselves in a conflict situation for various reasons. One of the potential sources of conflict is the ambiguous jurisdiction among the three presidents. Faced with an urgent decision-making scenario with cross-cutting interests, it will be difficult for the presidents to make decisions.

Another possible reason for conflict is goal incompatibility. Goal incompatibility in leadership happens when the actions of one leader are seen to go contrary to the other leaders’ interests. No matter how much the roles of the key leaders in SWIM are clarified, there is a chance of a possible conflict area arising nonetheless. It is clear from the case that SWIM’s leaders will likely face a conflict resulting from conflicting interests regarding the content and timing of the upcoming conference.

Also, implementing specialization at Sink is a recipe for leadership conflict. When individual employees and leaders are assigned different roles, there is a high chance of conflict in decision-making. That happens because once specialization occurs, leaders adopt varying methodologies, goals, and views (Omisore & Abiodun, 2014). The differences arise because leaders come from different backgrounds and have diverse experiences and training. At Sink, the co-presidents took various roles in managing research, marketing, and overall operations. By undertaking varying roles, they will all reason from different perspectives, leading to disagreements.

Time Constraints

Another challenge resulting from the events leading up to the conference is time constraints. Time constraints in an organization do not necessarily mean that leaders mismanaged time. Instead, time constraints can also result from unexpected events that may force immediacy in decision-making (Smith, Babich & Lubrick, 2014). For instance, the number of speakers for Sink’s upcoming conference is indeterminate since it depends on the weather conditions. If it rains, fewer speakers woufewer speakers would be, and Sink’s leaders may lack time to make a logical decision about recruiting speakers. Time constraint is also an outcome of the uncertainty that surrounds organizational operations. No one can say with 100% certainty that their decisions will yield the desired result. No matter how hard Sink tries to organize its events, uncertain events are inevitable.

Uncertain events are likely to lead to preference reversal. Preference reversal happens when decisions being made at the organizational level face new challenges. When an uncertain event occurs, members may pursue different strategies from those they initially planned or deploy completely new ones. The decision to change a strategy depends on the switching cost. Members may change tact if it takes less effort to change a strategy (Ordóñez & Benson, 1997). The idea of preference reversal can apply to Sink’s conference charges. Suppose the organization foresees the likelihood that fewer people will attend their event. In that case, they may lower initial attendance charges from $25 for students and $50 for professionals to encourage attendance.

Confirmation Bias

The decision-making process at Sink may also be engulfed in confirmation bias. Confirmation bias occurs when decisions are based on wrong conceptions and inherent worldviews. By confirming these biased notions, organizational operations are immensely affected. The problem is worsened when leaders make critical decisions without consulting the rest of the subjects. As far as the Sloan case is concerned, the planners of the upcoming conference committed a possible confirmation bias by making unfounded assumptions about attendance.

Recommendations for Effective Solutions

Involve More People

One proven way leaders can deal with decision-making when there is little or no information is by involving more people. When most leaders face crises requiring urgent decision-making, they resort to a few managers at the top to face crises requiring ad behind closed doors to exclude the rest of the organizational members. To ensure effective decision-making, leaders should abandon the hierarchical model that most leaders are comfortable with during regular times. By involving more stakeholders in decision-making, SWIM will encourage broader worldviews and debates to ensure intelligent decisions are made without sacrificing speed.

Specifically, the organization can use the fishbowl strategy in decision-making. The fishbowl strategy involves holding a roundtable meeting with critical decision-makers, experts, and select organizational members. In such a meeting, participants are taken through every decision-maker’s available decision options. The participants will evaluate all available options before developing a desirable solution. Notably, there is no need for further communication since all participants will have understood the reasons behind a particular decision.

Establishing a Nerve Centre

A nerve center will be helpful during stressful organizational situations (Alexander et al., 2020). Crisis times are associated with high stakes and big-between decisions in any organization. Leaders ought to focus and avoid unnecessary distractions to make effective decisions in such situations. Establishing a nerve center will help leaders focus more on strategic decisions than tactical ones. After setting a nerve center, critical strategic choices should be left in the hands of top leaders.

On the other hand, junior organizational members can make decisions in their areas of specialization (Alexander et al., 2020). For instance, in the case of SWIM, the organization should have assigned junior staff the responsibility of dealing with other organizational roles. Once the organization implements a specialization framework, junior members will handle specialized research, operations, and marketing tasks. To that end, top leaders will be left to focus on the organization’s overall strategy, whereas the junior members will focus on tactical plans. In case of an unexpected disruption, the junior members will ensure tactical plans are implemented before implementing a strategy.

Establishing an Accountability System for Decision Making

In an organization like Sink with multiple decision-makers, establishing an accountability system will improve the quality of decisions made at the organization. Putting a decision-maker system in place does not mean the organization will be looking for who to blame. Instead, it ensures an organization can evaluate outcomes against agreed metrics. That will enable the organization to learn better from its strengths and weaknesses.


The Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) case illustrates the hurdles organizational leaders undergo before making critical decisions when information is unavailable. In times of crises, managers have to make high-stakes and big-bets decisions. However, in the SWIM case, leaders may have difficulty deciding which course to take in the face of uncertainty and lack of information. Potential causes of challenges include possible conflict situations among leaders, confirmation bias, and time constraints. More people must be involved in decision-making to resolve these challenges and ensure effective organizational decision-making. Accordingly, this can be achieved by eliminating the hierarchical decision-making model applied during regular times and adopting a consultative model. Also, establishing a nerve center to streamline the organ stops hierarchical decision-making problems.


Alexander, A., Smet, A., & Weiss, L. (2020, March 24). Decision making during the coronavirus crisis | McKinsey.

Cosentino, A. C., Azzara, S. H., Grinhauz, A. S., & Azzollini, S. C. (2020). Urgent decision-making in extreme circumstances: Associations with cognitive reflection and responses to moral dilemmas. Análise Psicológica, 38(1), 65–74.

Omisore, B. O., & Abiodun, A. R. (2014). Organizational Conflicts: Causes, Effects and Remedies. International Journal of Academic Research in Economics and Management Sciences, 3(6).

Ordóñez, L., & Benson, L. (1997). Decisions under Time Pressure: How Time Constraint Affects Risky Decision Making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 71(2), 121–140.

Smith, C., Babich, C., & Lubrick, M. (2014). Leadership and Management in Learning Organizations.


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This week, we will analyze a case study by Lauren Ankeles, Marine Lea Graham, Roberta Pittore, and Priyanka Ramamurthy titled Sink or Swim.

After 11 months of planning, the Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) club co-presidents and two conference directors faced a difficult decision. The club’s 3rd annual conference, aptly named “Dare to Fail: Taking Risks When it Matters Most,” was scheduled to begin when a winter storm, fortified with up to 50 inches of snow, was predicted to hit the Boston area. At 2:00 pm, the day before the conference began, the leadership team needed to decide whether the show would go on, be modified, or be canceled altogether.

Learning Objective
– To facilitate a discussion on making decisions under pressure when the available information is insufficient;
– Team dynamics and facilitating a productive discussion under duress when there is no single decision-maker;
– Managing people over whom you have no authority; defining and maintaining an organization’s brand.

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