In the book Organizational Communication Imperatives, by Philip K. Tompkins, we are introduced to a chapter that deals with an organization that is held under high prestige by not only those who are employed by it, but by a country as well. This American organization is NASA, (National Aeronautical Space Administration), and although a very prestigious place to work, it is not free of its share of wrongdoing and counter productive ways. Ten years ago (1986), NASA was faced with its biggest catastrophe, The Challenger Explosion. This preventable event , which claimed the life of a crew of seven, left many questioning the ability of communication throughout NASA. The idea that a crucial element of the space shuttle, O-Rings, would pass inspection, although many scientists doubted the success of these, would be the ultimate cause of the crew's demise shortly after lift off. It seems these scientists' doubts were overlooked by a higher authority who gave the go ahead knowing the risk at stake.
The United States Army, well known for its maintaining of order and conduct, has fallen into a most peculiar and shameful predicament due to lack of communication. The New York Times brought its readers to the attention that all was not right in the military. An organization that shares a similar prestige to that of NASA, an organization who has exemplified its leadership time and time again by becoming a force, so powerful, that it is sometimes considered to police the world, has fallen into a sex abuse scandal. It seems that several women have come forward to proclaim their mistreatment from various acts ranging from rape to verbal harassment instilled upon them by members of the military. These women feel, had there been a genuine form of organizational communication, the study of sending and receiving messages, they would not have fell victims' to such hideous crimes. Senator Barbara Boxer stated (New York Times 11/96) that the complaints made by the women who came forward immediately were lost somewhere along the line in an attempt to reach a higher authority, signifying a need for some type of restructure.
In the minds of many people today the United States Army Is considered to have one of the best structured organizational communication networks. This is based upon the specified code of conduct that the Army is underlyingly ruled by. This is upheld by the specific chain of command which is easily distinguished by rank and uniform. Strict punishment is carried out upon those who violate rules and conduct, commonly accepted by this organization. The authority figures, in the Army, set tasks, and relay a common purpose to all subordinates down to the lowest level in the organization. They also oversee that actions and conduct are carried out in line with the organization ideology.
Luckily for NASA, during Werner Von Braun's tenure at the helm, there were many strengths in this company's organizational communication structure. A more than adequate system of communication was established and overseen by Von Braun that centered upon the theory of upward communication. This theory was designed around the principle, that workers closest to the problem had a large "hand in" the decision making. The term, penetration, was key for this organizations checks and balances. It established extensive contact between contractors and NASA officials at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Von Braun's system of the "Monday Notes," kept communication between each level of this organization at an informed stature This was a two-way direct form of communication where feedback was present in both parties. The high level of redundancy in this organization can be attributed to the success of the Monday Notes in the communication process. NASA's lateral function kept different labs up to date upon each other, and its workers possessed a "willingness to serve," a principle where workers had the necessary skills and training to perform their jobs.
Believe it or not, the Army, as strong as it may appear, contains several weaknesses to coincide with its strengths. This can be attributed to the Army's system of downward communication. This system is based upon the giving and taking of orders, with an understanding that no questions shall be asked of authority. The lack of checks and balances in the Army leads to enormous amounts of discretion held by any officer with a considerable amount of power and prestige. This can sometimes lead to hostility and moral masochism, the act of abuse and overextension of power towards subordinates. Feelings of persecution, fear, and intimidation of superiors are associated with this trend as stated by the New York Times. (November 8, 1996) These feelings made evident with the circumstances that have taken place.
As one of the most successful organizational systems established in NASA, this organization did indeed have its flaws. Von Braun never looked at problems as a whole, instead he looked at each problem individually and did not study the problems collectively in the big picture. There were problems between different branches in the organization. This was also apparent in the problems that divided the scientists and engineers. Due to Von Braun's "Monday Notes," which was a strength, actually led to a flaw. He never fully solved problems between the different groups and labs. The invisibility of the boss resulted in weaker attitudes as subordinates assumed Von Braun to be uninterested in their work. The last weakness in the organization was the perceived inequality in upper level positions. American born managers felt that they were shut out of higher offices, saved for the German's, Von Braun a native of Germany himself, which established a layer of investment within the organization.
After years of success under the leadership of Werner Von Braun, NASA, now under the control of a man by the name of Lucas, was introduced to a system of "Kill the Messenger". A seemingly poor way to transfer communication because it entails the idea that the subordinates bring bad news to a superior only to have the superior either ignore the problem, blame the messenger and even take action against the messenger. The communication is not open and as candid as seen in these cases where female officers did not report sexual abuses to proper authorities.
In comparison between the Army's organizational communication and NASA's organizational communication, both have effective means, but differ in structure. The Army is based upon the concept of downward communication for reasons of national defense since its establishment was first implemented. Downward communication is not looked down upon in the military because authoritative positions are harder to be promoted to, due to time in service, honors, and ethos. NASA is difficult to climb the ladder, but unlike the military, NASA promotes based on intelligence, capability, and understanding in a quicker amount of time. While the military recognizes their members as equal and promotion doesn't take place until an appropriate and acceptable allotment of time has been served. An unaddressed problem in the Army deals with the fact that women, who were closest to the problem, sex abuse, have suffered due to rank and history. Because of the difficulty they faced, their complaints and plea for affirmative action, were unable to climb the ladder of authority. NASA on the other hand , with their means of an upward communication system, are equipped to handle a situation of such, by access to complaining to a higher level through the use of Monday Notes without the fear or difficulty of reaching those who have final say on matters of organizational conduct. The Army is set up with a set of tasks that are fairly routine with each company given a designated responsibility. Each patrol is not required to, nor authorized, to interfere with another company. Under a term known as, Automatic Responsibility, members of NASA were held accountable for all that took place in their working environment. This meant that if something was wrong you should report it, even if it is not in your jurisdiction.
If one were to analyze these two organizations and judge which has a more favorable distinction in handling the flow of communication through their organization's respectively, they may experience difficulty in that both NASA and the Army are faced with different objectives entirely. NASA is primarily about growth and constant change, staring at the threshold of space above and beyond. Whereas the Army fields a more conservative view about the likeliness of breaking the mold. It is certain that the Army continues to expand and explore new horizons, but the way they go about conquering these new areas has been the same road they have always followed. The idea of rank, commitment , and only speaking when your spoken to, puts a limit on certain aspects of reinforcing moral dilemmas that should not have taken place to begin with. Perhaps if the military as a whole were to take a more stern approach to such matters as violence, homosexuality (gay bashing), and sexual abuse, a certain threat to morale may take place and cause confusion and uncertainty to those who are affiliated in the armed forces, but how far are they willing to let people get away with such criminal behavior? Or how many lives are going to be lost if members of NASA are not given the opportunity to concentrate, as well as communicate, on specific areas of their work and the scientists' opinions are taken for granted?
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