Team Architecture: Learning from Failure

Sick of staring at your phone? Listen to it here instead…

While most of this project will centre on the feats of Apollo 11’s success, there is a dark failure NASA learned from and is worthwhile to explore for our team.

Apollo 1: Catastrophic failure

In January 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were conducting a ‘plugs-out’ test for their Apollo 1 mission scheduled the following month. The objective was to prepare the spacecraft for the launch but soon into the test, it became apparent things were going poorly.

When a small electrical fire broke out, it almost immediately consumed the command module. The atmosphere they were sealed in was of pure oxygen and therefore the spark ignited a fire that engulfed and killed the crew within seconds.

WARNING: The Scene below (albeit recreated for ‘First Man’) could make for some uncomfortable viewing.

Rising from the ashes: Tough and competent

In the aftermath of the fire, Gene Kranz, NASA Flight director, gave a speech that outlined the gross incompetence and failure of NASA in Apollo 1 could never be repeated. Their continued perseverance in the Apollo program would be a testament to the memory of Grissom, Chaffee and White.

How could we learn from this failure and Kranz’s response to it? The first thing we noticed was how Kranz takes responsibility, collectively, for the fire and calls out the systems and culture that allowed such a disaster to happen. He then very clearly sets a course and a standard NASA would live by in two words:

“From this day forward, Mission Control will be known by two words: Tough and Competent.”

We decided to explore how these words might reflect some of the values and the behaviours we were striving towards. “Tough” could relate to how we push ourselves physically during training of in matches for each other. It could also relate to the type of defense we want to impose. “Competent” could mean we need to maximise the amount of times we practice something with diligence and focus. It also might mean players finding opportunities to practice on their own to ensure core skills (passing or kicking for example) are at a suitable level.

Teams that embrace each other…

There is a danger with the term ‘Tough’ especially as many sins can be performed in its name. There are many coaches who have pushed people to extremes under the guise of making players ‘tough’. To this end, we discussed being too tough on ourselves and each other and what that might lead to if left unchecked. We hope to create a team dynamic that people want to be a part of because they enjoy what they do and who they do it with; if we are not able to provide this, what are we doing?

It is important to make this group aware of how they can connect to one another. We developed this further by showing them the clip below about how physical touch by sports teams can contribute towards their success:

Other examples included the nature of the players binding in a huddle and the French team holding hands in a V-formation to face the Haka in the 2011 RWC final.

Reviewing Our Support Networks:

Having considered how we might better interact as a team on the pitch, it was worthwhile exploring how we might draw on support from other ‘teams’ in our everyday lives. If we want people to be able to share their experiences with us then we need to encourage them to do so. We also want to reaffirm who they can speak to and how such a conversation might begin.

We focused on the areas of school, home and wider society. Who is there to support them or to listen if they have something they need to express? We tried to outline the specific network of people who they might reach out to should they ever need it or if they think someone else might need to do so.

In terms of wider society, we talked about two organisations, Childline and Shout giving some background on what they do, how they might be helpful and in what circumstances. We spoke about why people might want to reach out to someone anonymous either by a phonecall to Childline or a text message to Shout. We also explored the pros and cons of each and shared the methods by which they could contact these organisations.

Shout: Crisis Volunteering

In relation to Shout, I am particularly interested in promoting its work as I am almost finished my training with them as a crisis volunteer. Over the past few weeks I have been undertaking a series of modules to train in responding as a volunteer for Shout which is a text messaging service for those in crisis. The modules range from suicide, self-harm, depression, relationship issues and anxiety. I have learned a huge amount and am looking forward to (and slightly terrified) of starting a real life shift in a few weeks time. The aim is that I can become far more attuned to my own mental well-being and to help those around me: be it family, friends, students, colleagues, players or fellow coaches.

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