Functioning of military squads
While Fiedler focused on the leader’s interpersonal styles and the task performance of work groups, he did not consider the effects of group interpersonal style or socioemotional outcomes in his research.18 Building on Fiedler’s work, Alexander Wearing and Doyle Bishop wanted to explore whether the interpersonal style of a group could influence group member adjustment and task performance.
They investigated the effects of task (internal) and environmental (external) conditions on the psychological adjustment of trainee soldiers,18 as well as the effects of leader LPC, mean group LPC, and task situation on the performance and adjustment of group members, related to socioemotional outcomes. In total, 52 squads were assessed.
The researchers found that squads with low LPC leaders were better adjusted and performed better on tasks in competition conditions compared to non-competition conditions.18 Alternatively, squads with high LPC leaders were either not affected by competition, or their adjustment and performance were poorer in the competition conditions. This difference occurred because a task-oriented (low LPC) leader could meet the demands of the competitive task, while external pressures toward cohesiveness could compensate for a lack of interpersonal skills. As for the relationship-oriented (high LPC) leader, they could be less equipped to meet the demands of the task while their interpersonal skills become slightly redundant.
The interaction between leader and member LPC also played a role in group atmosphere, adjustment, and performance.18 Specifically, there was a tendency for low LPC groups with low LPC leaders to be less satisfied and cohesive, and to have the poorest interpersonal relations. However, squad LPC was not impacted by competition – above and beyond leader LPC – meaning that leaders still held a powerful position over group performance under competitive demands. Overall, this research highlights the role that leaders play in the functioning of military squads, such that they influence the relationship between squad members and environmental demands.
NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter
While successful programs of space exploration provide valuable scientific information, this area of research is certainly risky and occasionally involves failures.19 NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) was supposed to circle Mars and collect the planet’s weather data, as well as act as a relay station to assist in data transmission. MCO launched on December 11, 1998 and travelled in space for nine months before its signal was irreversibly lost.
A review concluded that the main cause of the MCO loss was a failure to use metric units in the coding of a ground software file, defined as a technical error by NASA.19 However, project failures often extend beyond technical reasons. In fact, a retrospective analysis of MCO suggests that management could have prevented the failure with a better upfront assessment of the program’s uncertainty and complexity, as well as by installing systems that could have detected errors ahead of time. These mistakes could have been avoided by applying a contingency approach to the project.
Research on contingency approaches in project management emphasizes that not all projects are the same, nor should they be managed in the same way.19 Using a descriptive case study, researchers analyzed the MCO program using contingency approaches. They found that the challenges imposed upon the project were almost impossible to achieve, as management even admitted at a later point that they compromised key issues due to external pressures. Thus, there was an imbalance between internal and external factors. The researchers emphasized a need for those in project management to distinguish between doing the right project and doing the project right. Once a project is selected, project management should be adapted to the specific project type.