By Sam Robinson
One of the wonderful things about being around kids is that they remind you about things you used to love and have forgotten about. I’m lucky enough to have 3 healthy kids, and they all love space – from black holes, string theory and quantum physics to life on Mars, the gas giants, comets and meteorites – we love it all and give books and YouTube a big workout on these topics.
So when a BBC podcast episode came up for me recently, I was fascinated to hear about the Skylab 4 mission, the alleged “strike” on board and subsequent clarifications by the astronauts and NASA on what really happened up there. Apparently the immediate reporting of the events between the crew and mission control were wildly exaggerated and continue to feed misinformation up to today.
However, there is a bunch of great stuff to read and listen to from those who experienced the events first hand – the article link below is a recommended start. What jumps out for me is the reflection on social process which, we’re told, NASA took to heart for subsequent missions.
As a teaser, the following is a revealing insight into why the mission didn’t go to plan:
Staff on the ground hadn’t got to know this crew as well as its predecessors, because they’d been busy overseeing the first and second missions while the Skylab 4 astronauts were preparing for theirs.
“It meant we didn’t really get a good working relationship – we didn’t have that rapport.”Skylab – the myth of the mutiny in space (Kirstie Brewer, BBC)
Imagine that! A program worth many, many, many millions of dollars, involving intense and gruelling training, precise and complex engineering and calculations – undermined by “social process”. Social processes are those processes related to human beings, their interactions, beliefs, relationships and behaviour. Social processes are complex and can support an organisation to achieve its purpose again and again. Or – if conducted poorly – can bring down the whole show very quickly.
At LKS Quaero, we sense a fixable imbalance in many organisations. There’s rarely out and out dismissal of the importance of good social processes – but it can be deprioritised out of existence, reduced to an event (for example “we do social stuff well here, look how many people show up to the monthly barbie”), or assigned to an individual or department (“this is HR stuff”).
The most positive organisations are often those where there is a genuinely held shared belief that good social processes are absolutely vital for everyone. “Good” social process can often be challenging, surprising and stressful – that’s because people are confident in asserting what they think and feel, and are able to effectively balance disagreement with acceptance. Good social process creates sustainable results – and the foundations for better results over long stretches of time. That’s something that’s well worth striving for.