The Challenger and Columbia Shuttle disasters case study is about the tragic disintegration of the two shuttles occurring in 1986 and 2003. This paper examines the different areas of Organizational Behavior that went wrong with the two shuttle disasters. It will touch down on how the organizational culture at NASA contributed to the disaster, how the organizational structures and communication patterns contributed to flawed decision making and the role that leadership also played in the disaster. Also, the paper will cover how ethics apply to the case and the many different ethical levels that can be discussed regarding the disaster and finally it will discuss who was responsible for the “seriously flawed” decision making process and how it played its role in the disaster.
By the end of this paper you will see how each of these factors played an integral part in the organizational disaster of The Challenger and The Columbia Shuttles. Discuss the changes that NASA implemented after the Challenger disaster. The historical context that I believe helped NASA to refine their vision and mission are the incidences that occurred which was the 1986 Challenger disaster and the 2003 Colombia disaster. The Challenger disaster was the first disastrous incident that was a major space shuttle tragedy that left seven astronauts dead.
According to History.com, “On January 28, 1986 the shuttle challenger was destroyed a minute after the launch because of the failure of an O-ring which is a sealant ring on one of its solid rock boosters about one minute after the launch.” This event caused a lot of controversy as well as the blame put on the NASA administrative system and its failure to maintain an effective system of quality control. The tragedy brought a haul and NASA realized the need for immediate intervention. The systems were analyzed and redesigned, after the redesign, a replacement shuttle was ordered. According to history.com, “a variety of missions were carried out which enabled them to believe that the restructuring was a success.”
Discuss the aspects of NASA practice revealed in the aftermath of the Columbia disaster suggest that the change sought in the aftermath of Challenger were not sustained. It seems that NASA did not have the leadership to change its culture and structure. It was unfortunate that NASA did not change. NASA learned valuable lessons from the 1986 challenger explosion but failed to incorporate them into their culture and management structure. The breakdown of communications was the issue defined but not much was done about it. There were several management issues that caused the Columbia disaster.
One of the key issues was communication. NASA’s management structure did not allow adequate communication with engineers and management. Even though some engineers voiced their concern about falling debris from the shuttle, they were shut off. Furthermore, a couple engineers came up with a plan to land the shuttle despite the falling debris but their plan never made it to management. Thus, management did not have a good way of communicating. Another management decision that caused communication problem was the outsourcing of the shuttle’s safety overview program.
This reduced the workforce and added stress to the remaining staff. As a result, safety was taken for granted and communication started to break down. Furthermore, the culture at NASA condoned questionable compromises. Safety protocols were rewritten from proving conditions to be safe to proving conditions to be unsafe. It seems management was making decisions to save time and money which resulted in increased risk and the eventual demise of the Columbia Shuttle. If management stressed safety, communication, and listened to feedback, this disaster could have been avoided. Discuss how the actions for sustaining change of redesigning roles, redesigning reward systems and linking selection decision to change objectives may have contributed to changes being sustained.
NASA’s culture should change to foster communication, increase respect for each other, and value safety. In order to accomplish this, management needs to proactively get involved. Senior management should lead by seeking active participation from their employees instead of shutting them down. If an opinion is expressed it should be valued and respected instead of discarded. Also, showing how important everyone’s work is likely increase respect and cooperation. Since part NASA is a creative organization and a full of innovation, the organic model for teams should be used.
The organic structure is effective because it increases the flow of information and increases the pace at which information is received. Instead if a bureaucratic structure, teams are decentralized. Furthermore, the general consensus is that the more complex, dynamic, and scarce an organization is the more organic is should be. NASA definitely fits the prototype. This implementation is sure to resolve the communication issue at NASA. Changing the culture of an organization takes time but with persistence and proper leadership, NASA should be able to redeem itself as an agency of excellence and avoid costly and tragic accidents.
Discuss how the action for sustaining change of measuring progress, celebrating en route and fine-tuning may have contributed to the changes being sustained. NASA did not allow effective decision making. Even though NASA was under pressure to perform while having their funds cut, NASA did not heed to the lessons learned from the 1986 Challenger explosion. The breakdown of communications was the same issue that led to that explosion. NASA should have never outsourced its safety program because it led to more communication issues. It seems the decision was made using a simplified model of reducing cost at the expense of safety.
As a consequence, this cost NASA more in the long run. Furthermore, engineers are the key to NASA’s success. By shutting down their engineers, NASA’s management stopped using their most valuable resource. Logically, this was a poor management decision. It seems the decision was bounded rationality. Management did not capture the entire complexity of the decision. Discuss the unanticipated outcomes that NASA failed to recognize. It was unfortunate that NASA did not change, although they learned valuable lessons from the 1986 challenger explosion but failed to incorporate them into their culture and management structure.
The breakdown of communications was the issue defined but not much was done about it. NASA should have implemented the following changes but failed to do so: increased respect for others and cooperation but it seems management didn’t respect some of their engineers because they ignored the value of their opinions. Every opinion should have been heard and valued even if they are in the minority which should have created open communication.
Secondly, a better process should have been created to allow upward feedback to management: perhaps open meetings and discussions that would have allowed everyone to communicate openly or anonymous to allow anyone to express their opinion without fear. Lastly, safety should’ve be incorporated into NASA’s culture and stressed by management which have also have eliminated the second tragic shuttle disaster.
NASA’s culture should change to foster communication, increase respect for each other, and value safety. In order to accomplish this, management needs to proactively get involved. Senior management should lead by seeking active participation from their employees instead of shutting them down because if an opinion is expressed it should be valued and respected instead of discarded. Also, showing how important everyone’s work will likely increase respect, and cooperation. Changing the culture of an organization takes time but with persistence and proper leadership, NASA should be able to redeem itself as an agency of excellence and avoid costly and tragic accidents.
2. Palmer, I., Dunford, R., & Akin, G. (2009). Managing Organizational Change: A Multiple perspectives approach (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. 3. Assessment and Plan for Organizational Culture Change at NASA. http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.htm;?pid=12540: