For those not old enough to have lived through it, a story of shooting for a landing on the moon, suffering an explosion on the spacecraft on the way to the moon, not landing on the moon, and then narrowly making it home to Earth is the story of Apollo 13. When facing issues, conflicts, and the attainment of goals, having the resources of a fully functional manager and team are irreplaceable. A manager that has clear goals and strategies in place is more likely to succeed even when faced with the greatest types of adversity.
Every employee of NASA should know about the tragic event of Apollo 13. The background of the team began with the completion between the U. S. and Russia and their space exploration programs. What started out as a routine trip to the moon and back soon became one of the biggest crises NASA had ever experienced. From understanding the plight of the spacecraft, to knowing what needed to be done, to creating a CO2 converter out of materials only available on the spacecraft, the flight is a clear lesson on how to manage a team in a crisis.
In many projects, it always comes back to a stressful situation, where quick decisions must be made which have a major impact on the achievement of the task at hand. Many managers often ask for advice on how to handle such situations in order to be a good leader and achieve maximum results. In order to be an effective manager and to be able to influence other and exercise high degrees of control, some rules should be followed. I will give a few examples of how Gene Kranz managed to promote teamwork and to achieve the best possible solutions despite unprecedented problems, lack or resources and time pressure.
One must remain optimistic and believe in themselves and the team to achieve a set goal. Without personal convictions managers will not be able to motivate the team to developed new solutions, continue to working and foster collaboration. Gene demonstrated principled management and a leadership in demanding the best from his team while respecting their efforts no matter the outcome. One great thing about Gene’s management was that is set a standard of excellence. With statements like “I don’t care about what anything was meant to do, I care about what it can do. This set in motion self-management by various supporting teams. This shows us important lessons that we can apply to other environments. Make sure to clearly identify roles and responsibilities of each and every team member. Communication is also a key in managing a team effectively. In the movie one of the team members unplugs his TV and takes his phone off the hook which cost everyone value time and input in solving this crisis. Managers should make sure they can get in touch with employees. Create a policy if you must.
An over authoritarian style of management with a top down principal is sometimes inappropriate. Managers often give instructions, tasks and fiat without asking the employee for their opinion. In contrast managers with a cooperative democratic style of management involve employees in decision making. Decisions are taken after detailed discussion in working groups. Information should be forwarded to a great extent through all communication channels. Gene Kranz was drawing at the board and listened to his team and their suggestions. And they all discussed the suggestions together.
Without this democratic management style of Gene Kranz, the team would not have been as successful. Another issue is to work the problem correctly. Defining the problem is the hardest part of problem solving. As a manager it is important to define and communicate the problems which must be solved. Otherwise, no team will be able to find suitable solutions. Gene Kranz identified all the problems and formed special teams to address them. He made it clear to the teams which objects could be used. Only the objects that were available to the astronauts could be used.
He wasted no time in complaining about what objects were not available or missing to solve the problem. He was action oriented and emphasized problem solving. It is also important to be a visible manager or leader. A good manager shoulders responsibility and conveys to all team members that they will work through the problem. Another trait of an effective manager is respect for others. Too often in today’s corporate environment, we don’t respect the judgment of those actually doing the work. Moreover, a crisis is not a time for accusations.
The primary objective should be to handle the situation together and make the best of it. Gene Kranz did not ask at any time after the explosion, how such an explosion could have happened. Neither the astronauts nor Mission Control would have benefitted from the discussion of guilt, creative problem solving was much more important. In spite of all the negative talk, Gene told them failure was not an option, and they did not fail. Building trust must be combined with effective communication. Its benefit was evident in the film through the obstacles the team overcame.
As a team grows together through strong management, their level of trust to achieve a collective goal, individuality becomes less important and the team’s objective is placed in the forefront. Action orientation becomes second nature, and feedback is open and honest. Combined, these improve the overall success and functionality of the manager, employee relationship. Finally, nobody wants to experience crisis such as the one in Apollo 13, however there will always be unpredictable problems and managers will have to challenge the situations.
An effective manager should place themselves in Gene Kranz’s place for internalizing his way of leading a team. In addition, difficult situations that happen in the past should be analyzed for developing suggestions for managers to learn how to act in prospective situations. Every crisis is unique and demands an individual solution but for learning how to find the best solution, act right as a manager and motivate your team. Being successful and solving problems in a creative way is just but one aspect of being an effective manager and leader for your team.