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Organizational Behavior: Power, Conflict & Group Work
The Apollo 13 case study
July 8, 2009
This report offers insight into various aspects of Organisational Behavior that have been identified from three different incidents in the sequence of events surrounding the Apollo 13 mission. We put forward a number of characteristics found in various members of organisations. These usually relate to positions, roles, goals, authority, communication, attitudes and relationships
This report offers insight into various aspects of Organisational Behaviour that have been identified from three different incidents in the sequence of events surrounding the Apollo 13 mission. We put forward a number of characteristics found in various members of organisations. These usually relate to positions, roles, goals, authority, communication, attitudes and relationships. The main focus has been placed on four aspects which we have identified as pertaining to the incidents chosen. The first of the three incidents selected is referred to as the ‘Medical Incident’. Here we take a look at the situations of conflict that arise when there is a imposed change in the formation of the Apollo 13 crew. We also take a brief look at the organisational structure of NASA, since the way in which the organisation is designed has an impact on how its members behave. The second incident is referred to as the ‘Failure is Not an Option Incident’ concentrates on the aspect of power and leadership that is demonstrated by an individual in the organisation, namely the Flight Director on duty during the Apollo 13 mission. We take a look at the types of power he possesses and the way it affects his leadership style. Finally, the third incident which is referred to as the ‘Manual Burn Incident’ relates to the behavioural aspects of group and team members within this particular organisation. We take a look at how these groups and teams are formed and how they associate with each other and work together to successfully achieve their goals and objectives.
Incident # 1 – The ‘Medical’ Incident
Brief Description Ken Mattingly, who was originally selected to be command module pilot, is removed from the flight two
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1997. There are many definitions of conflict. The medical team think that the risk is too great so Jim is forced to replace Ken with Jack Swigert. there is also another person involved. commander of Apollo 13. each one with a different key aspect. 1998. 2004.wordpress. Jim Lovell. especially Deke who does not want to take that risk. In Apollo 13. In this situation. which is “far more evident in problem solving and decision making situations” (Paul et. litsikakis. hard working of all the astronauts. Most of the times. conflict is the situation where “one side perceives that the other side is blocking its goal achievement and expectation” (Kwahk & Kim. 2003. the medical advisor thinks that it is too dangerous to let Ken fly on this mission because of serious indications that he is going to get sick during a crucial part of the mission.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 2/14 . Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis 24/10/2012 days before launch because of the risk he might be infected after being exposed to measles. On the other hand. Pg 83). argues to keep Ken Mattingly. al. the backup command module pilot who “has been out of the loop for weeks”. who is one of the most conscientious. The doctor has the support of senior management. Pg 658). Jim thinks that the medical advisor undermines his mission because he wants to replace one member of the team two days before launch. Acting as a mediator he is the “neutral third party person who assists in the achievement of a negotiated solution by using reason and presentation of alternatives” (Buchanan & Huczynski. Jim and his superiors have a serious organizational conflict. Pg 304). In this case a decision must be taken upon a medical recommendation: on the one hand. Pg 448). Conflict “Conflict appears to be an integral component of human functioning” (Slabbert.Organizational Behav ior: Power.
he can either choose to replace Ken and continue with his mission on the Apollo 13. Pg 255). Jim now has two options. It is Jim who takes action as commander (or Project Manager) and uses the “smoothing conflict management style where he recognises that disagreement exists and minimizes the differences while striving for harmony” (Gobeli. As a new member of the crew. letting the desire to obtain his and NASA’s goals (concern for production) overcome “the desire to retain interpersonal relationships (concern for people)” (Holt & DeVore. Pg 427). Jim cannot do much to persuade him change his mind. it was inevitable that conflict would arise. 2004. The conflict between Jack and Fred is obvious from the beginning. Pg 167). Jim seems to use two different conflict resolution approaches (Whetton & Cameron. 2005.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 3/14 .wordpress. He balances the cost in money. so he uses the ‘accommodating’ approach because he thinks that the mission should continue despite any last-minute changes. or he can cancel the mission and his team will be used for the next mission. Pg 410). Pg 904) (Clegg. without any option of discussion. Structure litsikakis. 2005. “Development of each conflict episode is determined by a complex combination of the effects of preceding episodes” (Vaaland & Hakansson. he replies “This was my call” and ends the issue there. He thinks that the final project success is more important than one team member. Koenig & Bechinger. When Ken says to Jim that they can talk to Deke and persuade him not to change the crew. these two men express their feelings and argument. Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis 24/10/2012 Faced with these facts. 2005. 1998. Worchel (2005) points out “the division of people into groups can sow the seeds of conflict” so from the minute they split into two groups (Jim and Fred against Jack). he changes his conflict resolution method to ‘forcing’ because he just announces his decision to the rest of the team. time and reputation for his organisation (NASA) and he makes a decision to carry on without Ken.Organizational Behav ior: Power. This feature makes him flexible and successful because he can identify the situation he is in and change his method of resolving conflicts. 2003. It is therefore clear that Jim is a very experienced leader who can manage conflicts. When he talks to his superior. so during execution phase (flight). using different styles and techniques to address the problem. which after all are inevitable consequences of organisational structures (Mullins. Jack’s capabilities are questioned by the fact that he has not practised enough in the simulator. at the risk of the project success. Pg 128). When he talks to Ken. because Fred has an informal connection with his friend Ken.
who then finally delivers his decision to his team. litsikakis. Mintzberg (1981. information from one department to the other has to go through the ‘managers’. In the case of NASA. Pg 77).” The structure of every organisation depends on how the activities are ordered. “how that coordination is achieved. Tall structures usually imply that there is a high level of bureaucracy and “fewer employees report to each manager and hence the span-of-control of each manager is narrow” (Buchanan & Huczynski. and with what. However. Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis 24/10/2012 Organization structure is “the system of arrangements. because the organisation is more bureaucratic. by whom. Pg 297). he in turn reports to Deke (Jim’s superior). Pg 104) notes. Diagram 1 and Diagram 2 below depict the same group of people within the organisation.wordpress. the structure appears to be a ‘Tall Organization Structure’. the medical team advise their superior of their findings.Organizational Behav ior: Power. In this particular incident. the pattern or network of relations. dictates what the organization will look like. while Diagram 2 shows the informal structure which is “the network of relationships that spontaneously establish themselves between members of the organization on the basis of their common interests and friendships” (Robbins. Therefore.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ . Diagram 1 of shows their formal relationships. between the various positions and their holders” (Buchanan & Huczynski 1997. 1997 Pg 297). who then passes on the information to Jim. 1983.
which is also apparent in the way they work together. The relationships can have a positive outcome because team members who have the same goal are also bound by friendship and respect. Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis 24/10/2012 The Informal Structure is of particular significance in this incident since the bond between the original team members is so strong. but also a friend. The problems arise when an ‘outsider’ is brought into the team.Organizational Behav ior: Power. In this incident. Since the newcomer is replacing not only a colleague.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 5/14 . such network can be positive or negative” (Krackhardt & Hanson. Fred and Ken are not only colleagues. but also have a tight bond as friends.wordpress. Jim. the personal feelings of the other members litsikakis. 1993 Pg 104). However “from a managerial viewpoint.
This is shown in Fred’s attitude towards Jack which results from Ken having to leave the team.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 6/14 . litsikakis. thus causing conflict. Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis 24/10/2012 come into play.wordpress.Organizational Behav ior: Power.
2004. Pg 13). but here we shall only look into those relevant to this situation. this kind of power stems from a number of sources. they have to determine the safest part of the ship to use for the astronaut’s return. we see how Kranz applies power through various “social and interpersonal skills” (Buchanan & Huczynski. However. or “informal” stemming from one’s personal relationships and attributes. Power The aspect of Power pertaining to the role and behaviour of Gene Kranz. they have to come up with a way to save power and also provide the astronauts with a feasible re-entry procedure. According to Pfeffer (1981). Pg 829). Pg 829). On the one hand. 1983. (Melia & Peiro. Power has been defined as “the capacity of individuals to overcome resistance on the part of others. when.wordpress. Formal power is found in a hierarchical organisation is carried out from the top-down where “superiors exert power on their subordinates while the opposite is not the case” (Melia & Peiro. the quality without which leaders cannot lead” (Smith & Alexander in Pfeffer. in this case we shall start to look at Power mainly from the “Power-as-property viewpoint” (Buchanan & Huczynski. the extent of the power possessed by two individuals in the same position within the hierarchy may vary as a result of their personal relationships. power is possessed by Kranz as an individual as well as well as through his relationships with his colleagues.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 7/14 . how and why” (Mintzberg. Kranz shows that he in possession of the element of power which is vital “to initiate and sustain action translating intention into reality. Kranz’s power as a leader originates from his position within the organisation’s structure and hierarchy. Pg 828). On the other hand. are clearly visible in this incident. He is responsible for leading his team to successfully find a way to bring the three astronauts on the Apollo 13 back home after an unexplained explosion causes the spacecraft extensive damage.24/10/2012 Incident # 2 – The ‘Failure is Not an Option’ Incident Brief Description Gene Kranz. litsikakis. Pg 1). and how this kind of power is visible and obvious. In the first place. 1984). Power bases can be grouped as being “formal” stemming from one’s position within the organisation. 1984). In this incident. position in the hierarchies affects the developments of personal relationships” (Melia & Peiro. The definition of Power itself is not as important as “who gets it. Having said so. Gene Kranz and his team face two main issues. In order to perform effectively as a leader. and to produce results consistent with their interest and objectives” (Dahl in Buchanan & Huczynski. 2004. Informal power is not “necessarily associated with formal structure and can flow in all direction. to exert their will. 2004. Therefore. is the Flight Director for NASA’s Mission Control Unit during the Apollo 13 space mission. 1984). 1992.
they argue and even strongly raise objections to one another’s points of view. and since he is a respected member of the organisation he also has access to the communication network of NASA. In most situations. On the other hand power is also shown as being the “property of a relationship between the power holder and others. but on the extent to which he is authority is perceived by others. Pg 830). need to feel “that the leader has access to rewards. The fact that this team has a high level of unity and low level of conflict. On an personal basis according to (Pfeffer. 1981). Taken from the bases outlined by French & Raven (1958). and particularly relevant in this situation. 1981) individual power comes from one’s ability to utilise energy and not waste effort. being responsive and being able to interpret and comprehend others. Those who follow. In this incidence. the belief that he has authority to give out orders which they are obligated to litsikakis. His power and ability to do so are especially important in such a case when the emergency occurs. leaders must have the ability to make the final decision and exploit their power to put this decision into action. time is limited and there is also a high level of uncertainty. expertise and so on”.wordpress. sanctions. but Kranz has the final word and makes the decision based on his prompt evaluation of the information provided. perceptions and desires of the followers” (French & Raven in Buchanan & Huczynski. 2004. traits that Kranz shows clearly in this incident. and being thick skinned and not being afraid of conflict and confrontation. the specialists provide various suggestions and solutions on how to bring the astronauts back home. Kranz listens attentively to all the information and opinions provided by the specialists in order to enable him to make the best informed decision possible. being flexible when it comes to choosing methods for reaching objectives. that Kranz’s actions are highly regarded by the organisation and that during this crucial event Kranz and his team were indispensable all contribute the power he possesses.24/10/2012 Another source of his power is his ability to obtain and control information and resources. “The exercise of power depends on the beliefs.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 8/14 . rather than just a property of the individual alone”. Therefore an individual such as Kranz can exert power not based solely on the fact that he has authority. the power held by Kranz can be said to come mainly from the belief that he has sought-after skills and personal characteristics that can and should be emulated (Referent Power). by the importance of Kranz’s team within the structure of the organisation and their function in resolving serious problems and minimising uncertainty (Pfeffer. This aspect of Power is further reinforced.
“I want you all to forget the flight plan. Pg 143). Kranz’s “expert power” is likely to increase due to the success of this mission. and we are sure as hell not going to lose one on my watch. a group must have certain qualities. keeping one fixed point in space. The astronauts are informed of this decision but are advised that the computer references cannot be used. failure is not an option!” Incident # 3 – The ‘Manual Burn’ Incident Brief Description Mission Control realise that the angle of the spacecraft is too shallow and it is being thrown off trajectory. Fred Haise and Jack Swigart then execute the task. he allocates “resources … delegates power to make decisions fully but retains one final means of personal control: the setting of the resource constraints within which the all the subordinate’s decisions must fall” (Mintzberg. Pg 1). Jim Lovell. Pg 144). Jim Lovell (Team Leader) opts to carry out a manual burn. Kranz also sets “the decision premises … establishing guidelines or specific constraints within which the subordinates must decide” (Mintzberg. To define a group.wordpress. but one important feature of a group is the “continuing face to face relationships between its members” (Smith 1973. Since these bases are prone to change over time. In order to manage the conclusions reached and the recommendations made by his team in the way he deems most appropriate.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 9/14 . “each member is conscious about their own and others existence within the group…members have common aims or ideals that to some extent bind them together…members influence and respond to each other in the process of communicating” (Jaques 2000. 1983. as all members of the litsikakis. Kranz makes use of the “personal control system”. but then exercises his formal right to review that decision before it is turned into action” (Mintzberg. “We have never lost an American in space. 1983. Kranz gives “direct orders … telling the subordinate exactly what to do” (Mintzberg. NASA’s ground crew for the Apollo 13 Mission can be viewed as one group. The crew at Mission Control decide a burn is needed to get the astronauts back on track for their reentry. The astronauts and Mission Control prepare for the Manual Burn. Kranz also allows them to “make specific decisions. once again demonstrating his position with these memorable words. Here Kranz leaves his team with the task to provide the astronauts with a reentry procedure. when leaving the room. From this moment on. Pg 143) when he says at the start of the meeting. In this incident.Organizational Behav ior: Power. Pg 143). 1983. Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis 24/10/2012 follow due to his position within the formal organisation structure (Legitimate Power) and the belief that he has higher knowledge related to the present situation and mission (Expert Power). we are improvising a new mission” asking them to tell him was it is that is good on the ship. Group Work Group work is often seen as a set of people working together to achieve a common goal. A group can be of any particular kind. he walks away. 1983. and all the people in the assembly lines that put the machines together in order to find out how to obtain the maximum power out of both modules. And finally. Kranz tells his team to call in all the engineers that designed the machines. Pg 1).
Pg 518 ). In this incident. all individuals are working together to perform a specific task. and these groups are intangible and have their own way of doing things” (Wilson & Rosenfeld 1990. as they “perceive themselves to be a group” (Mullins 2005. Although the Astronauts can be seen as a group. These differences are identified in the Table 1 below: litsikakis. A team can be viewed as “a number of people who have a common goal and recognize there personal success is dependant on the success of others. There are strong differences between a team and a group. Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis 24/10/2012 organization are working together and interacting with eachother to accomplish one specific goal. As the Manual Burn incident occurs. Mission Control involves many people who are all aware of one another. An informal group is “the forming and coming together of individuals on a voluntary basis. these two sets of people as a whole can be defined as a group. There are two different types of groups. Pg 237). they are all interdependent” (Crainer 1998. A formal group is “designed and created around a specific task” (Wilson & Rosenfeld 1990. Mission Control and the Astronauts. they share information and try out new ideas. the task of bringing the Astronauts back on trajectory. Pg 518). formal groups and informal groups.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 10/14 . Apollo 13’s Mission Control is portrayed as a formal group. Pg 123). who are all working together on one specific mission and all communicate to successfully achieve their goal. Mission Control keep regular contact with the Astronauts. this group can subsequently be divided into two groups.wordpress. In order for this to happen they decide a manual burn is needed.Organizational Behav ior: Power. they hold more characteristics of a team.
to contribute towards a management specified task. They all have different skills and control different systems. with only 3 members. Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis 24/10/2012 Table 1: Differeneces between a team and a group The Manual Burn incident show Mission Control as one group. Fred is responsible for the direction and Jack is in charge of time keeping. Gene Kranz. they underwent a crucial selection period to go on the mission and they have different skills that complement each other to achieve there goal of successful completion of the Manual Burn. Fred and Jack. In this situation this project team may be considered as a cross-functional team. because it “consists of individuals who have been brought together for a limited period of time.Organizational Behav ior: Power. Jim. during the incident. Kenneth De Merge and David Futrell (1990) there are four types of teams. and production teams. As already stated. Once this has been completed. the Astronauts are actually a team. Pg 384). the team is either disbanded or else its members are given new assignments. advice teams. However.” (Huczynski & Buchanan 2001. project teams. In an organisaiton there are many types of teams. a group cannot be part of a team. action teams. each member provides there own ideas and contributes towards a shared aim. During Manual Burn incident. “Cross-functional teams refers to a team composed of employees from about the same hierarchical level but from different work 11/14 . Jim controls the angle of the space craft. this group is large in size with many group members. The Manual Burn incident shows three team members. The team is much smaller. all members involved in the Apollo 13 Mission can be seen as one group. Establishing Mission Control as a ‘subgroup’ and the Astronauts as a team. we can consider the Astronauts as a project team. the final decision is always made by the Flight Director. from different parts of the organization. it is important to understand that although a team can be part of a group. this group can be split into two. looking out of the window to visualize there target in space. Mission Control and the Astronauts. According to Eric Sunderstorm.
Conf lict & Group Work – Dimitrios Litsikakis areas or functions in the organization. we can identify some key behavioral challenges that the team face within this manual burn incident. Fred can be viewed as a ‘specialist’ as he provides skills and knowledge to direct the spacecraft. you need to thrust aft. Within a team different team members have different team roles. not forward. Were going to burn at 10% thrust for 39 seconds. From Belbins nine team roles we can identify the three members to a specific role. Jack you time us”.Organizational Behav ior: Power. 1997 Pg 227) Through this incident we can apply the role of ‘shaper’ to Jim as he is the person in charge. put on the transistor controls.com/article/organizational-behav ior-power-conf lict-3ib8exv rc87n4-10/ 12/14 . So if the Earth is drifting down. the main characteristics identified show the strong relationships between members involved in the Apollo 13 Mission. “Freddo you handle the pitch. During the discussions with his superiors. He is also a dedicated team member. Conclusion In conclusion. he is the time keeper and is entrusted to finish the task. Jim is dealing with. who are brought together to complete a particular task” (Huczynski & Buchanan 2001. He has an immense amount of motivation and provides his team members with their specific individual tasks. all backwards. Jack is seen as the ‘completer’. (Buchanan & Huczynski.wordpress. I’ll do the same on mine with everything else. in this case. based on the three incidents identified in this report. while he appears to be more aggressive and decisive when dealing with team mates whom he is in charge of. In this incident Jim gives clear instructions to his team. Pg384). A key behavioural characteristic shows the different types of conflict resolution styles. These conflict resolution styles appear to differ according to the position of the members that. Jim tends to be more submissive. Applying Belbins Team Role Theory. Jim addresses conflict and uses resolution methods wisely because he makes a distinction based on the levels of litsikakis.
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