How to Build High-Performing Teams and Successfully Transform a Failing Organizational Culture

Wed, 20 May 2020 10:00 AM

How to Build High-Performing Teams and Successfully Transform a Failing Organizational Culture

The real causes of the Challenger and Columbia tragedies were more the fault of a dysfunctional culture of the Agency than the proximate, technical causes attributed to O-Ring/SRB joint blow-by and bi-pod foam release and subsequent shuttle wing leading edge impact. The warning signs for both tragedies were evident in both cases, yet the technical teams responsible for critical subsystems failed to understand the important cross-disciplinary failure of the integrated system. In addition, the sociological and behavioral causes which led to both tragedies were never fully recognized or appreciated by key Agency and Shuttle Program leaders and, hence never adequately addressed or corrected. In addition, reductionist systems engineering processes and procedures used to decompose the complex system into simpler sub-problems were not adequate to predict the anomalous emergent behaviors typical of non-deterministic, complex systems.

Dr. Camarda will highlight a disturbing trend of NASA toward reduced emphasis on use-oriented, applied research over the past 25-30 years which has eroded the technical capability to not only predict key failure mechanism and root cause behaviors of anomalies which can lead to critical failures, but once realized, the inability to rapidly solve such problems and prevent future failures. He will also highlight ideas for using a system-of-systems approach, rapid concept development, and a “Team-of-Teams approach to build a resilient, adaptive network of key subject-matter-experts to rapidly assess and mitigate potential failures before they become critical.


Charles Camarda was born in Queens, New York and received his undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1974. Upon graduation, he began work at NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC), received his M.S. from GW in Mechanical Engineering in 1980 and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from VPI in 1990. He was Head of the Thermal Structures Branch at LaRC in 1996 when he was selected to be an Astronaut. He flew on the return-to-flight mission of Space Shuttle, STS-114, in 2005 following the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. He was selected Director of Engineering at JSC in December 2005, was the Deputy Director for Advanced Projects for NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), NASA’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, and was NASA’s Senior Advisor for Innovation and Engineering Development at NASA’s Langley Research Center prior to his retirement in May of 2019. During his tenure at NASA Dr. Camarda has created and led large and small teams NASA and joint NASA/Industry/Academia teams to help solve some of the most complex engineering challenges such as: the National Aero-Space Plane (NASP), Single-Stage-to-Orbit (SSTO) and several teams to ensure a successful return-to-flight of Space Shuttle (STS-114) following the Columbia disaster. He currently teaches, consults, and is the founder/CEO of a 501 (c) (3) Corporation called the Epic Education Foundation.

Dr. Camarda is an inventor, author, educator, invited speaker and guest lecturer on subjects related to engineering, engineering design, innovation, safety, organizational behavior, and education. He holds 9 patents, over 60 technical publications, and over 20 national and international awards including: an IR-100 Award for one of the top 100 technical innovations; the NASA Spaceflight Medal, an Exceptional Service Medal; the American Astronautical Society 2006 Flight Achievement Award, and was recently inducted into the Air and Space Cradle of Aviation Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2017.