Research Proposal: Organizational Behavior the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster

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Organizational Behavior

The Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster - Organizational Behavior as a Matter of Life and Death

Case Summary

The Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster commences with a short presentation of the NASA's shuttle being disintegrated 16 minutes after reentering the earth's atmosphere. The disaster which killed seven crew members and kept the attention of the space exploration annals had been caused by technical mistakes. Interestingly enough, the commission appointed to investigate the disaster revealed that at the bottom of the technical troubles stood shortages in the organizational management. "According to the board, the stage of these technical troubles was set by a more fundamental cause - deeply rooted problems in the organizational management of NASA's Space Shuttle Program itself. One might not expect to find an OB focus in a government-initiated, postdisaster technical report, but it makes perfect sense. After all, people engineered the project, so any weaknesses in the way they made decisions and communicated to one another were bound to make a difference" (Integrative Case). The board concluded that until the organizational problems were not resolved, the space actions could not be safely executed.

The case then moves on to identifying the problems and sub-problems. It explains that the reasons for an overzealous culture relied primarily on political forces, emerged from the Cold War 'battles' with the Soviet Union. Having won the competition by sending a man in space at the end of the 1960s, NASA gained the reputation of a winner who could do everything right and better than others. In time, it led them to pay less attention to details and reduce their efforts towards safety. Then, the government cut NASA expenditure, the funding for Space Shuttle Program being reduced by 40%. As a consequence then, the organization downsized 42% of its employees and outsourced key responsibilities, such as safety oversight. As a consequence, shuttles began to encounter functional difficulties - these were generally related to technological shortages and little was done to improve the organizational behavior at NASA.

Despite these however, the institution was blamed for numerous other issues, and the board concluded that it was the combination of those issues that determined the failure of the Columbia Space Shuttle. "The Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report makes it clear that NASA's organizational problems contributed greatly to the shuttle's accident. No one single management mistake was responsible but rather it was the combined effect of many" (Integrative Case).

2. The Problem Issues

The case reveals several problems related to organizational behavior at the basis of the Columbia space shuttle disaster. The most significant of them are succinctly presented below:

the organizational culture frowned upon questionable compromises the organizational design of NASA is inefficient as a whole the quality of the decision making process was eroded by time pressuring miscommunications occurred on extremely frequent basis within the organization, as well as between NASA and outside institutions

NASA had implemented a culture of overconfidence, which in the end meant a reduced attention to details, and consequently safety issues they were facing resource limitations

In a more simplistic and generalized formulation, the problems encountered by NASA were those of reduced resources (namely capitals and human resources) and reduced time to perform the tasks. The reduced amounts of time allocated for chores were due to a high record need for operational efficiency. Also, the demands forwarded by NASA's stakeholders, as well as the institution's personal desires had significantly intensified.

The case catalogues the main problems into three categories, each with their adjacent issues, as presented below:

Time Pressure Eroded Decision-Making Quality

This problem resided in the intense desire of NASA officials to launch the shuttle according to a schedule - it lead to rushed and hasty decisions and poorly implemented courses of action. The sub-problems of the limited quality of the decision making process were as follows:

The training programs were compromised: the seven astronauts had not completed their trainings and the managers did not notice this; managers are also poorly trained at NASA, institution which "does not have a standard agency-wide career planning process to prepare its junior and mid-level managers for advanced roles" (Integrative Case)

Normalization of deviances, meaning generally that the digressions were not corrected, but perceived as normal

High levels of stress, generated by downsizing operations and the need for fewer individuals to perform the same amount of work

Miscommunication Was Rampant:

Employees who desired to voice concerns or dislikes were frowned upon, "making it impossible to raise any safety-of-flight issues" (Integrative Case)

Whenever bad news was voiced, it had a way of getting lost or being ignored; the management did not conduct internal control

The communication problems emerged directly from the far too complex organizational structure of NASA - it reduced efficiency and halted communications

Culture of Overconfidence Eclipsed Attention to Safety

This problem emerged mainly from the past success in overcoming the endeavors of the Soviet Union. In time, this stopped being true, but the NASA officials took their capabilities for granted. As a result:

The institution became extremely reluctant and resistant to change, failing to integrate new realities and requirements. "NASA's culture of success was so strong that it led managers to misperceive reality in order to make it conform to their beliefs. As managers strove to maintain their view of their organization, they lost their ability to accept criticism, leading them to reject the recommendations of many boards and blue-ribbon panels [...] by ignoring these recommendations, the agency insulated itself from corrective influences that were necessary to fix problems" (Integrative Case)

The focus on success decreased the attention to safety, coming to a situation in which the previous NASA safety culture was broken

Verifications and balances of operations were also significantly reduced, increasing as such the changes for shuttle failure

3. Alternative Solutions

The proposed solutions must address the identified issues and resolve them. The possible courses of action are as follows:

the implementation of a cultural change within NASA, focused on safety, security and easy communication the request of additional funds from the government, and if this fails, the request of sponsorship from for-profit organizations the offering of proper training programs to staff members modifying the organizational structure as to make the organization more efficient

4. Analysis of Alternative Solutions

Cultural change

Pros:

the organization would recognize the new realities and the need for change;

it would become extremely competitive;

it would place an increased emphasis on the human resources, which would reduce the levels of stress and dissatisfaction and would ultimately materialize in higher performances and increased operational efficiency the levels of safety would once again be high and the lives of the NASA astronauts would be properly valued it would encourage communications and continuous improvement

Cons:

the implementation of the process requires hard works and is also tedious throughout the implementation, the levels of stress and frustration employees manifest could further increase the organization may not be able to implement the process on its own and the outside consultancy would require additional investments, in a time when the institution is already financially strapped

Increased funds

Pros:

the lack of sufficient funds has been at the roots of numerous problems, which could easily be resolved through an increased access to more financial resources more funds would mean better training programs, reduced levels of stress, increased on-the-job satisfaction and consequently higher performances, more focus on safety and performance rather than efficiency

Cons:

the endeavor is unlike to retrieve a successful outcome generally because of two reasons: the American economy is facing crisis and secondly, the Bush administration and its war on terrorism threw the country in a record high federal debt trying to get sponsorship from non-governmental institution would represents a recognition of problems within NASA

Training

Pros:

the staff members would be better prepared to handle tasks the levels of stress would be reduced training programs would make the employees feel valued within the organization employees would get an increased on-the-job satisfaction and the security of their position (extremely important since the downsizing has reduced their trust in the institution) it would implement the concepts of the learning organization, focused on continual improvements all the above would materialize in increased performances and superior operational efficiency

Cons:

hierarchical inside trainings mean that employees have to take time off from their daily duties, resulting as such in a reduced operational efficiency outside trainings also imply a reduced operational efficiency, but also additional costs

Change in organizational structure

Pros:

communications would be improved employees' on-the-job satisfaction would increase operational efficiency would increase more attention would be given to the important details, such as safety

Cons:

the implementation of such a project is tedious the organization may be unequipped to handle it on its own they would require the assistance of specialized outside consultancy, which would then imply additional expenditure

5. The Final Solution

The answer relative to the solution to be implemented is a highly complicated one. Similar to the occurrence of the disaster, to which a combination of forces contributed, it is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Organizational Behavior the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster.  (2008, December 19).  Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/organizational-behavior-columbia-space/7934561

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"Organizational Behavior the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster."  Essaytown.com.  December 19, 2008.  Accessed November 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/organizational-behavior-columbia-space/7934561.