Strong cultures, whether they are strong on
control or strong on motivation can be problematic.
If we look at a high performing organization, in fact,
one of the very highest performing organizations in the world, NASA.
NASA experienced a terrible disaster
on the launch of the Challenger shuttle in 1986.
But, the report of the Rogers Commission investigating it said that,
not only were there technical problems,
but there were cultural problems.
NASA's culture was a major source of error,
a major contributor to the tragedy.
Experts expressed concerns about the safety of the Challenger launch,
but NASA's culture had prevented these concerns from reaching the top decision-makers.
Past successes created an environment of over-confidence within NASA; they had
so many successful launches despite one or two minor, little errors being perceived.
These minor errors were smoothed over and
not seen as an occasion for action.
In combination with extreme external pressures to maintain launch schedules,
flawed decision-making was an outcome.
The Rogers Commission made
several recommendations to NASA on how it should change its culture.
Yet in 2003, there was another disaster with the Columbia shuttle.
The report on the Columbia shuttle disaster argued that
NASA's organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as foam,
which was the technical problem.
The report found great similarities between
the culture and NASA in 2003 and the culture 1986-
reliance on past success as a substitute for
good engineering practice; organizational communication barriers,
preventing the communication of critical safety information,
and the expression of professional differences of opinion;
and the evolution of an informal chain of command
that subverted the organization's rules.
In all of that time, despite there being
a high-level report instructing NASA to change its culture,
and despite the efforts of many people to do so,
the culture was still very similar and another disaster occurred.