ABSTRACT OF "COUNTDOWN TO TEAMWORK"
Using video projected as part of his PowerPoint program, Colonel Mullane opens with a dramatic narration of a shuttle countdown and launch, leading the audience to this question, "If it was YOU on that rocket, what type of a team would you want holding your life in their hands?" Obviously you would want a team that's the BEST!
Astronaut Mullane then establishes that teams achieve greatness when they practice certain fundamentals and he uses his experiences as an astronaut and Air Force flyer to develop these fundamentals:
Guarding against a "Normalization of Deviance"
Normalization of deviance is a long term phenomenon in which individuals or teams repeatedly accept a lower standard of performance until that lower standard becomes the "norm". Usually, the acceptance of the lower standard occurs because the individual/team is under pressure (budget, schedule, etc.) and perceives it will be too difficult to adhere to the expected standard. Their intention may be to revert to the higher standard when this period of pressure passes. However, by "getting away" with the deviation, it is likely they will do the same thing when the same stressful circumstances arise again. Over time, the individual/team fails to see their actions as deviant.
Mullane uses the Challenger tragedy to make this point. Under tremendous schedule and budget pressures and over multiple launches, the NASA team accepted a lower standard of performance on the solid rocket booster O-rings until that lower standard became the "norm". By the dawn of Challenger, the NASA team had become so comfortable with seeing occasional O-ring damage and getting away with it, the original standard, in which ANY O-ring damage was defined as intolerable deviance, was marginalized. Disaster resulted.
The Columbia tragedy is another example of normalization of deviance and Mullane discusses the salient issue of that tragedy that the NASA team grew so comfortable accepting occasional "hits" on the winged-orbiter by foam shedding from the gas tank, they lost sight of the criticality of the deviance.
Teams maintain their high standards of performance by "planning the work and working the plan"; connecting the dots (to insure multiple problems aren't just symptoms of a single normalization of deviance problem); and by considering the instincts of team members in the decision making process. With Challenger, some engineers had a gut feeling that an O-ring disaster loomed, but management refused to react to instincts. Leaders should investigate instinctual fears to determine if, in fact, they are rooted in reality.
The power of a team resides in the uniqueness of the team members, in their diversity of life experiences and insights. Everyone has a sacred responsibility to get their unique perspectives on the table for the leadership to consider. Leaders have a sacred responsibility to empower the voices of their people so they can gain access to those unique perspectives. "One person with courage forms a majority", is a quote by former President Andrew Jackson that Mullane will use in this discussion. He also uses an example of how a medical doctor at NASA (not an engineer or astronaut) had the best idea for a shuttle bailout system. This is an example of how great ideas can exist in the minds of people who are not considered the experts on a particular issue and this is why team leaders need to work on empowering every voice on their teams.
Trust is achieved through "need" fulfillment. We all look to our leaders to fulfill these fundamental needs: to be treated with respect as an individual; to get honest recognition for our work; to have a voice in matters that concern us. When leaders fulfill these needs, the bonds of trust strengthen and through this trust the true potential of the team is realized. Mullane draws from his experiences as a combat flyer in Vietnam to illustrate how need fulfillment by combat team leaders builds trust and through this trust the warrior potential of the combat team is realized. The same warrior potential exists in corporate teams and leaders can unleash this potential by identifying and fulfilling the needs of their people.
Mullane uses his life story to develop these points on self-leadership: self-leaders set very lofty goals, stay focused on what's important, and constantly do their best at every task. Mullane develops this philosophy of self-leadership: "Success isn't a destination. It's a continuous life journey of working toward successively higher goals."
Courageous Team Leadership
Again, Mullane uses aspects of his life story to develop this point...that truly courageous team leaders maximize the potential of their people through this leadership philosophy: "I want YOU, to be more successful than ME."
Most audiences are shocked to learn how ordinary Mullane was. People assume because he is an astronaut now, that in his youth, he was a super-child, destined for great success. That is not the case. Mullane uses slides and video to prove he wasn't a child genius. He wasn't a sports star. He wasn't popular. He didn't date the homecoming queen. Yet he realized a lifetime dream. His success occurred, as is does for all of us, because of leaders (parents, teachers, scout masters, bosses, etc.) who didn't see him as he was, but looked past that to his potential and worked to develop that potential through this courageous leadership philosophy, "I want YOU, to be more successful than ME".
Countdown To Teamwork is remarkably inspirational. The audience will come away from the program with a renewed sense of their potential and the potential of their teams.
Normalization of Deviance
On the morning of August 30, 1984 I was scared. Terrified, really. I was strapped into the cockpit of the space shuttle Discovery, minutes from my first flight into space. Most of the public would have been surprised to hear of my fear. For the past two years, since the fourth shuttle mission had landed, NASA Headquarters had been telling the media that the shuttle was no longer "experimental" but rather "operational", a title that implied the machine was nothing more than a very high flying 747. The public had been lulled into believing the great risks of spaceflight were a thing of the past. Fear in the cockpit? They wouldn't have believed it. But I was a former Air Force flyer with 1500 hours in the back seat of the F-4 Phantom. In my 10 year flying career, I had read the accident reports of countless military jet crashes and had buried a number of friends who had died in some of those crashes. If we couldn?t build flawless jets, I reasoned, how much more difficult must it be to build a flawless spacecraft of the complexity of a space shuttle? In spite of NASA Headquarters pronouncements about the shuttle being "operational", I was scared.
At T-6 seconds the three space shuttle main engines (SSMEs) were commanded on by computers. The cockpit was violently shuddered. Nearly 1.5 million pounds of thrust was tethered to earth by explosive bolts. Only if the ship's computers determined the engines were operating nominally would those bolts be blown and the command issued to ignite the twin solid-fueled rocket boosters (SRBs).
3-2-1!. The SSME health check was nominal. A new violence of noise and vibration swept over us as the SRBs fired and Discovery leaped from the earth on 7.5 million pounds of thrust.
I watched shadows move across the cockpit as Discovery pirouetted in a "Roll Program" and began a slow pitch-over toward the risen sun. A minute into flight the cockpit was rattled with a new wave of brutal vibrations, this time from the sonic waves being generated by flight through the sound barrier.
At about 25 miles altitude, there was a loud "bang" in the cockpit and a whip of fire across the windows as the expended SRBs were jettisoned. They would parachute into the Atlantic and be retrieved by tug boats to be used again.
Now, only the liquid-fueled SSMEs were running. They had to perform perfectly for the next 6 ½ minutes to get us to our final orbit altitude of about 250 miles and a speed approaching 5 miles per second. I prayed they would do so. It was these engines that astronauts most feared. Each consumed 500 pounds of propellant per second. The turbo-pumps that rammed this fuel into the combustion chambers ran at hellish pressures, temperatures and RPMs. Continuous helium purges were needed to keep dangerous gases from mixing and causing an explosion. Countless welds in a maze of tubing had to withstand temperatures that varied from cryogenic cold to thousands of degrees hot. It was easy to imagine a catastrophic failure in any number of the components that made up an SSME. It wasn?t a hypothetical worry. Astronauts had been briefed on many SSME test stand failures and explosions. Of course for the first 2 minutes of ascent our lives had been attached to the two booster rockets but we hadn?t given them a second thought. No engineer had ever come to an astronaut meeting to explain away an SRB failure. The boosters were the essence of simplicity?just big steel tubes filled with solid propellant. They always worked.
None of us aboard Discovery would know it until after the Challenger disaster but one of our boosters had betrayed us. At some point in its burn, one of the flexible O-rings that sealed the segmented joints of the SRB had failed to make that seal. For the briefest of moments - probably just a fraction of a second - 5000 F gas, at a pressure of nearly 1000 psi, had wiggled past a primary O-ring and been stopped by the backup O-ring. We had experienced what engineers would ultimately call the first case of "blow by". We had narrowly missed the same death that would claim Challenger and her crew in 1986. As it turned out, we weren't the only crew to have dodged the O-ring bullet.
After the boosters were recovered from STS-2 (the second space shuttle mission) engineers had seen significant damage to one of the booster O-rings. Because the SRBs are so large (150 feet long, 12 feet in diameter and 1.2 million pounds) they cannot be transported as a single piece. They have to be constructed in four propellant-filled segments that are transported separately to Kennedy Space Center where they are stacked and bolted together. Redundant O-rings seal each segment joint. Since the O-rings had previously been given a ?Criticality One? rating, the observed damage from STS-2 was cause for grounding the shuttle program. (A Criticality One rating was attached to shuttle components, the failure of which would cause vehicle loss and crew death. O-ring failure would result in the leak of 5000 F gas and vehicle destruction.) However, the NASA team was under tremendous schedule pressure. The shuttle had been sold to Congress as a means of getting into space at a fraction of the cost of other launchers and the key to that efficiency was a rapid turnaround of the vehicles - on the order of just two weeks. The four shuttle fleet was to fly 20+ missions a year. Under pressure to not only maintain the launch schedule but to rapidly expand it, the shuttle team looked for a way to continue flight operations even with a Criticality One design violation. When a laboratory test of an O-ring that was intentionally damaged (to a degree greater than the STS-2 O-ring), revealed that it could maintain three times the expected flight pressure, NASA decided it would be okay to continue flight operations. Post-Challenger investigators would later show that this was the first step in a four year process known as "normalization of deviance".
When the next several flights flew without O-ring anomalies, the correctness of the decision to continue operations was reinforced. Over the following several years more cases of O-ring sealing problems were observed in the returned SRBs but it became harder and harder for the team to accept what they were seeing as a grounding anomaly. The team had ?gotten away with it? so many times, the O-ring deviance had been normalized into its decision-making process. This, in spite of the fact that some SRB engineers were predicting disaster, as in these words written by a contractor engineer six months prior to the Challenger tragedy, "It is my honest and very real fear that if we do not take immediate action to solve the problem with the field joint (the O-ring) having the number one priority, then we stand in jeopardy of losing a flight along with all the launch pad facilities." Even warnings such as these could not reverse the normalization of deviance that was occurring. On January 28, 1986 both the primary and backup O-rings on the bottom segment joint of the right side SRB failed during the launch of Challenger. Seventy-three seconds into flight the vehicle was destroyed and the seven member crew was killed. While many people refer to Challenger as an accident, it was not. Challenger was a "predictable surprise" precipitated by a multi-year normalization of deviance.
Every team and every team member is vulnerable to a normalization of deviance in their operations. When was the last time you took a break to see if you are infected? Are pressures (schedule, budget, family distractions, etc.) causing you or people within your organization to cut corners in safety or other areas? Are they oblivious to the deviance of their actions because they have gotten away with it so many times in the past? Its time for a "normalization of deviance" check.
By line: Astronaut Mike Mullane is a veteran of three space shuttle missions. His recently published memoir, Riding Rockets, The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut (Scribner, hard cover, 368 pages), deals significantly with his time at NASA and the Challenger disaster.
In his program, The Lighter Side of Spaceflight, Astronaut Mike Mullane will take the audience on a uniquely revealing, captivating and hilarious space journey. Using spectacular video and slides he will answer everybody’s space questions: What does a shuttle launch feel like?...How does an astronaut deal with the incredible fear of launch?...How do you sleep, bathe, eat, drink, etc.?....What do you see from space?...And, of course, he will answer the top two questions that astronauts are ever asked:
Number 1: How does the space toilet work? (When the audience hears how astronauts train to use the toilet they will be convulsed with laughter.)...and...
Number 2: Have astronauts seen any UFOs or aliens?
The answers to these questions and many, many more are lavishly wrapped with inside, hilarious stories and supported with amazing video. The audience will not only be thoroughly entertained by The Lighter Side of Spaceflight, but will also feel privileged to have been given an insight into the astronaut experience that few people ever get to experience.
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