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Organizational Communication Imperatives : Lessons of the Space Program

Organizational Communication Imperatives : Lessons of the Space Program - 93 edition

Organizational Communication Imperatives : Lessons of the Space Program - 93 edition

ISBN13: 9780195329667

ISBN10: 019532966X

Organizational Communication Imperatives : Lessons of the Space Program by Phillip K. Tompkins - ISBN 9780195329667
Cover type: Paperback
Edition: 93
Copyright: 1993
Publisher: Roxbury Publishing Co.
Published:
International: No
Organizational Communication Imperatives : Lessons of the Space Program by Phillip K. Tompkins - ISBN 9780195329667

ISBN13: 9780195329667

ISBN10: 019532966X

Cover type: Paperback
Edition: 93

List price: $72.95

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Summary

Organizational Communication Imperatives: Lessons of the Space Program, by Phillip K. Tompkins, provides unparalleled insight into the communication successes and failures of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. It spans a 25-year period--from the Apollo Program to the present-day dilemmas of the space program. Much of the book focuses on communication problems involved in the Challenger disaster.

Tompkins is a master of what Clifford Geertz called "thick description." The result is a compelling, richly-detailed case study that brings alive the field of communication to students. Organizational Communication Imperatives eases the job of teaching by providing students with a narrative that stimulates interest, contextualizes abstract principles, and leads students into theory with greater understanding.

Through their study of the Marshall Center, students are exposed to

how complex organizational structure changes over time.
how employees are affected by these changes.
how an organization may react to a major crisis.
how an organization responds to different types of leadership.
what it takes to bring an ailing organization back to health.


The text thus provides a more comprehensive insight into the functioning of one organization--rather than attempting to describe how all organizations function--than is offered in any other book of this type. Yet the analysis offered can be applied to any organization to improve communication.

Tompkins's work as an organizational communication consultant to the Marshall Center during the Apollo Program, under legendary German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, is well known. In 1990, Tompkins returned to Huntsville to interview top management and assess the Center's recovery since the Challenger disaster.

The book takes the shape of a first-person narrative, which gives it an accessible, personal style rarely found in textbooks. Students will have no difficulty with comprehension.

It is also unusual to present primary-source findings in a classroom text, as this book does. Students gain a sense of how original research is conducted as they use the book, which encourages development of their critical thinking skills.

Suggested questions for discussion and essays, as well as class projects and exercises, are included in an appendix to assist the instructor in using the book to maximum advantage.

Author Bio

Tompkins, Phillip K. : University of Colorado at Boulder

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

1. The Challenger Accident

Recounts the tragic demise of Challenger and explores its meaning, relying on media coverage of the accident and its use of "metaphorical engineering."


2. The Imperative of Studying Organizational Communication

An overview of the field, recounted through four anecdotes--two of which are drawn from Tompkins' experience with NASA--that reveal the essence of organizational communication.


3. The Marshall Space Center and the Apollo Project

The author's 1967 experience as a summer faculty consultant in organizational communication under Wernher von Braun. Tompkins is charged with conducting a diagnostic study of the Center as a communication system and searching for systemic problems by means of interviews with top and middle managers.


4. Some Problems of Communication at the Marshall Center

Tompkins is asked to delve into several problem areas of communication at Marshall including: the formalism-impersonality syndrome, the invisibility of the boss, lack of lateral openness, the science-technology barrier, communication bottlenecks, external interfaces, and the problem of staff offices.


5. Staff and Board Meeting

On von Braun's bidding, the author presents his findings to the Center's top managers, along with a series of recommendations.


6. Reorganizing the Marshall Center

In 1968, now that the Saturn V moon rocket has proved itself, von Braun is pursuing new projects and planning on how to communicate about them. Tompkins explores new schemes of organizational communication that will give systems engineering a central role in future R&D.

7. A Reading of the Rogers Commission Report

A reconsideration of the 1986 Challenger accident as documented by the Rogers Commission Report and other published sources.


8. Feynman's Two Experiments

Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate in Physics, was a member of the Rogers Commission and is best known for his simple but dramatic experiment using a rubber washer and a cup of ice water to demonstrate why cold weather kept the Challenger's O-rings from functioning properly. His second experiment, one which concluded that the Challenger accident was rooted in problems of organizational communication, is recounted here.


9. Huntsville Revisited

Tompkins returns in 1990, four years after the Challenger disaster, to interview top management and assess the Marshall Center's recovery from an organizational communication standpoint.

10. The Lucas Era at MSFC

Marshall's problems of organizational communication at the time of the Challenger accident are analyzed.


11. Organizational Forgetting

The author presents a hypothesis that a kind of organizational "memory loss" led to the abandonment of several highly successful organizational communication practices developed under von Braun.


12. Death and Rebirth

This chapter examines the Marshall Center in the aftermath of the Challenger explosion and its effects on the employees. The organization went through the grieving process and a time of purgation--followed by a remarkable transformation and rebirth.


13. J. R. Thompson's Response

The factors that brought the Marshall Center back to life are discussed in an interview with J.R. Thompson, who was named director after the Challenger tragedy.


14. The Meaning and Future of the Space Program

The author's analysis is brought up to date with a current look at NASA and the Marshall Center's present leadership. Tompkins argues for a renewed national commitment to a first-rate space program as an organizational model of excellence, an examplar from which other enterprises can learn.