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The Cultural Tale of Two Shuttles Essay

1. What factors in NASA’s culture contributed to the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters? a. The main guys said everything was fine to go ahead with the launch. Their basic assumptions were skewed to what they thought was perfect. The Decision-making style is corrupted they need to get involved and listen to everyone besides their group. They did not believe they could fail and that the success of the mission took precedence over cost and deadlines. They felt their mission was more important than a role of any individual or group. Their inside training needs work to get out of the norm to fix the assumption that everything is problem free.

Using Schein’s “onion mode” of culture, is it possible to show how basic assumptions are linked to beliefs and values and then to potentially fateful behaviors? The NASA group is very self-centered. They believed they had a higher standard and they were better than any other. Trying to link what appears as a company that believed they had a sound system and that system would not fail is hard to fit into the onion mode. At the level 3 change for them, was difficult because they did not believe there was a problem and that the mission would be successful. They overlooked reality and truth to get accomplished what they felt was the only mission. Their sense of time was distorted.

They were only concerned with the time for getting the shuttle in space and the glory of who was on board. The values they held for the rest of the staff was way below the normal. They felt they knew best even though the crew tried to speak out against it. Then the final level of the onion mode the NASA team does not show encouraging behavior for the rest of the staff. They forgot how one failure could improve future launches. They assumed they were better.

2. Cultural change was obviously difficult at NASA. Can you think of specific things that could have been done to make cultural changes more lasting or more effective? On page 146 is a list of good reasons for helping the changes: The group should have a correct understanding of the issues to be resolved. The group should determine the minimal characteristics required in order for any alternative to be acceptable. The group should identify a relevant and realistic set of alternatives. The group should carefully examine the alternatives in relation to each previously agreed-upon required characteristic. The group should select the alternative that is most likely to have the desired characteristics.

They needed more open communication. They needed to put issues on the table for consideration, good or bad. People should have stayed with an area of expertise to stay focused and finish projects of interest as to not leave an open wound. Having an outside source to come in to help keep track and help open communication and help have an organized practice instead of relying on past organizational structure to fix their own problems.

3. Are there particular aspects of NASA that might make cultural change particularly challenging?

Yes, they need to want change. They need to see everyone makes mistakes, more mistakes are going to happen and if they can’t trust the judgment of the crew to know what is what then they will always fail. The communication needs to link between all aspects of NASA there can’t be a one way road. I believe that at NASA their mind set is all wrong. Their core values should be to keep their astronauts safe in addition to maintaining security. This means that they have to make very careful decisions in the process. At NASA they were focusing on success of the mission, not on the individual. Here, it is very clear to me that they should be focused on the individual first, then on the mission. It seems as though communication has been somewhat closed. They want to communicate problems but not those problems that interfere with them launching a mission. This, I believe is critical to their success.

Groupthink would make NASA challenging to cultural change. On page 145 in the text book Organizational Communication the descriptions for groupthink fit the personality of NASA. Some are as follows: ➢ Illusions of invulnerability: the belief that nothing can go wrong within the group.
➢ Illusion of morality : the self-rightous belief that the virtues of the group are above reproach.
➢ Stereotyping: the categorizing of others outside of the group in ways that see their views as unacceptable.
➢ Self-censorship: the overt restraint of group members against offering opinions counter to the prevailing thought in the group.
➢ Illusion of unaniminity: the statement of agreement while private doubts amd disagreements are suppressed.
➢ Direct pressure on dissidents: The coercive force that obliges group members to behave and think in similar ways.
➢ Reliance on self-appointed mind guards: The protection of the group from contrary information from outside influences.
➢ I feel that the culture of NASA is one that they feel that they do nothing wrong. They use their past successes as a sound judgment. I feel that their communication in terms of safety really hurts their culture because it does not take safety as important as keeping up its high standard. Instead of listening to the engineers that designed the parts, the “powers that be” at NASA made poor decisions that cost lives.

Maybe they felt that the people below them were not important enough to be listened to? I also feel that from reading this study that the organization had a culture that was not focused on the group success but some individuals’ success. The decision the were made were just too costly and I don’t feel that a group of people that did not have a personal gain in them would make these kind of decisions.

Are bureaucracies particularly susceptible to these difficulties of cultural change?

Yes, I do believe so. Our bureaucracies have been in charge for so long gotten the rules to bend their way and how they want them. No one can know how to get in to change the problems because of the tightness among the members.

Bureaucracies are susceptible to these difficulties. How many times do we see it in our government where someone focuses on a task at hand and not the effects on each individual?

Bureaucries are susceptible to these difficulties of cultural change.

This is why I feel that government (bureau cries) has problems with cultural change. Just look at the way in which our government has let this country get into the shape that it is in today financially speaking. Look at the culture that thinks they can change everything financially by simply borrowing more money. Is it OK to question the “top dog” if they make a decision? Yes. If the culture of that organization just always follows the boss then what if the boss is wrong?

Do organizations involved in high-risk tasks face special challenges?

Organizations involved in high-risk tasks are different but they still need to have a core organization foundation. NASA is full of smart people who have been led to believe they are above other people. They to still need some direction and some formal culture that has rules that everyone can follow.

NASA is very involved in high-risk tasks that face special challenges.

Also the NASA organization is very much involved with high-risk tasks facing special challenges.

I do think that “high risk” organizations face special challenges because usually most of the decisions made have huge consequences’. Like NASA, two wrong decisions made for two disasters. If both accidents would have not happened, no one would even ask about the culture of the organizations. The danger that they face makes making one wrong decision a national disaster.

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