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Astronaut Mike Mullane
Countdown to Teamwork is a 64 minutes DVD 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’s 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’s 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
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.• Courageous Self-Leadership
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.
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