Organizational Theory Applied to the Challenger Disaster

Essay by adammills1University, Bachelor's November 2004

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Groupthink has had a negative role in many organizations ability to make rational and ethical decisions. The Challenger disaster is no different, in fact its outcome was more serious than most. The Challenger disaster was caused by Groupthink, specifically the pressure that management was subjected to, which was then forced upon the engineers.

The symptoms of Groupthink were clearly the downfall of the Challenger disaster. By analyzing these symptoms we can break down each weakness that management and engineering experienced. First, the group felt invulnerable because the mission had flown 19 times and came back safely 19 times. Management felt that weather, O-Rings, and other empirical evidence would not be enough to postpone the flight. The heuristic ignorance is a prime example of the invulnerability that the managers felt when giving an "ok" to launch. Second, Congress was instilling pressure by cutting back on funding, which clouded the ethical judgment of the launch.

In addition, media created a defensive personality with the engineers by stating, "When is a turkey going to become an eagle and yet another costly space shuttle delay." This statement made the public look down upon NASA, thus forcing premature launch. Third, pet assumptions by management influenced engineers to pass over the empirical evidence and focus mainly on the heuristic view. The launch coordinator emphasized these heuristic views in the challenger movie viewed in class by stating, "I am appalled that Morton Thiokol and Rockwell International would postpone a launch because of a simple O-Ring." Fourth, pressure from outside sources such as media, congress, and managers caused the engineering group to underestimate their opponents. Congress said, "we've got to launch, we've got to be the first in space, and we have to get the payloads up." Again, instead of combining morals and ideas, engineers are stereotyped...