Countdown to Teamwork is a 64-minute flash disk of a live presentation of Astronuat Mike Mullane's
most popular teamwork and leadership program.
Building on his wide-ranging teamwork experience, Astronaut Mike Mullane provides a vivid
description of three critical success factors for effective team synergy. These factors are
applicable regardless of group size, risk and business environment. With remarkable depth,
clarity and a fine witty humor, he weaves together cutting-edge team-building concepts using
real-life examples drawn from the U.S. Air Force, NASA and his own life. Here is a summary of
what your team can learn from Mike Mullane.
1. The Essence of Responsibility: Your Voice Counts.
Be a Team Member, Not a Passenger.
The essence of responsibility is for each of us to be accountable, to raise issues and
concerns, by anticipating events, thinking about risks and opportunities, and bringing forward
our individual perspective. Leaders must coach, reward, protect, and encourage each member to
speak her mind without fear. They must remind everyone that the strength of the team lies in
the diversity of experiences of its members.
In his very first mission on an F111 fighter, Mullane asked the pilot to fly back home once
the minimum fuel for safe return has been reached, but in vain. Running out of fuel, both
Mullane and the pilot ejected from the cockpit seconds before the jet crashed into the landing
strip, resulting in $23 million loss and nearly killing the crew. Mullane notes that he failed
his responsibility as a team member by not insisting to respect the safety protocol, by
becoming a passenger instead of a team player. He attributes this behavior to people'
reluctance to confront, need for acceptance, position and job longevity, assumption that
others will act, fear of boss and the not-in-my-job-description mentality.
Individuals have a responsibility to “Find their voice” and get their unique perspectives on
the table for the leadership to consider. Leaders have a sacred responsibility to maintain
everyone' team presence and not to let anyone become a mere passenger. They must empower the
voices of their people so they can gain access to those unique perspectives. Mullane quotes
former President Andrew Jackson: “One person with courage forms a majority”
Astronaut Mike Mullane refers to a medical doctor at NASA (not an engineer or astronaut) who
had the best idea on how to add a bailout system to the shuttle. 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 team.
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 experience to illustrate how corporate team leaders can unleash this
potential by identifying and fulfilling the needs of their people.
2. Team Leadership Starts with Courageous Self-Leaders.
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 people assume because Astronaut Mullane was a
super-child, destined to have great success. Mullane uses slides and video to prove he wasn't
a child genius, neither an athlete nor a popular student. He didn't date the homecoming queen
because “Destiny did not [endow him] with good looks!” But, he learned at an early age from
his parents who were laser-focused on their dream and noble mission to raise six children
despite the polio disease that paralyzed his father at the age of 33. Mullane had a lifetime
dream, a lofty goal, to be an astronaut. He always challenged himself. But when he found that
he could not be a pilot because of his eyesight, he decided to serve NASA in other challenging
aerospace positions. Like his parents, he accepted what he could not change and made
mid-course corrections. He insists on continuing education and on staying focused.
Self-leaders set very lofty goals. They remain focused on what's important. They constantly do
their best at every task. “Success isn't a destination. It's a continuous life journey of
working toward successively higher goals.”
3. Manage Risk by Guarding Against the Tendency to Cut Corners
to Meet Deadlines, Budgets and Other Pressures
Mullane stressed the importance of guarding against Normalization of Deviance, which
exists when an individual or a team repeatedly accepts a lower standard of performance until
that lower standard becomes the “norm” Normalization of Deviance occurs when the performer
either thinks it will be too difficult to adhere to the original higher standard or is under
pressure (budget, schedule, scarce resources or stakeholder coercion). The intention to revert
back to the higher standard when the pressure subsides rarely materializes. By getting away
with the abnormal behavior, performers are likely to deviate when stressful circumstances
arise again. Over time, the individual/team fails to see it actions as deviant.
Mullane illustrates the normalization of deviance problem with the Challenger tragedy.
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 no longer
considered. Disaster resulted.
To address the normalization of deviance, Mullane advices team leaders to set and maintain
their highest standards of performance; know their vulnerabilities, stick to the plan and
learn from mistakes. Furthermore, teams should connect the dots in order to insure that
multiple events/incidents aren't manifestations or symptoms of a serious “Normalization of
deviance” problem. They should consider the instincts of team members in the decision making
process. Prior to the Challenger accident, many engineers had a gut feeling there were serious
O-ring design issues but management refused to react to instincts.
Mullane provides several illustrations and tips to guard against the adverse consequences of
cutting corners or accepting lower standards to meet deadlines and budgets.
PDI distributes Countdown to Teamwork. We also play and discuss the DVD in all our management
seminars. Project leaders, plant managers and other professionals who bought Countdown to
Teamwork report that using this vivid team-building video presentation helps their team
members set lofty goals, act in a more responsible and accountable manner, anticipate and
prevent normalization of deviance, inspire everyone to overcome the barriers to
self-leadership and perform much better.
Astronaut Mike Mullane has established himself as an acclaimed professional speaker
on the topics of teamwork, leadership and safety. He has educated, entertained,
inspired and thrilled tens of thousands of people from every walk of business and
government with his incredibly unique programs.
Upon his graduation from West Point in 1967, Mike Mullane was commissioned in
the United States Air Force. He holds a Masters of Science Degree in Aeronautical
Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and is also a graduate of
the Air Force Flight Test Engineer School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Mullane was selected as a Mission Specialist in 1978 in the first group of Space Shuttle
Astronauts. He completed three space missions aboard the Shuttles Discovery (STS-41D)
and Atlantis (STS-27 & 36) before retiring from NASA and the Air Force in 1990.
Mullane has been inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame and is
the recipient of many awards, including the Air Force Distinguished Flying
Cross, Legion of Merit and the NASA Space Flight Medal.
Since his retirement from NASA, Colonel Mullane has written an
award-winning childrens book, Liftoff! An Astronauts Dream, and
a popular space-fact book, Do Your Ears Pop In Space? His memoir,
Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut,
has been reviewed in the New York Times and on the Daily Show with
Jon Stewart. It has also been featured on Barnes and Noble’s 2010
recommended summer reading list.
Mullane has held a lifelong passion for mountain climbing,
averaging nearly 500 miles per year of backpacking in the mountains
of the West. Since age 60 he has summited Africas highest peak,
Mt. Kilimanjaro; the glaciered peak of Mt. Rainier; and thirty-five
of Colorados 14,000-foot peaks.