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  • Subject area(s): Engineering
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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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“You want to encourage lifelong learning,” said Taimi Olsen, director of the Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center.

Olsen opened for speaker Frank Martin, former director of Astrophysics at NASA.

Martin spoke to UT faculty on Wednesday in the Hodges Auditorium about the 4-D System of teambuilding that he used during his time as a director for NASA.

A lifelong student himself, Martin says his entire learning experience is experiential. He has learned through doing.

In 1966, Martin earned a BA in physics and mathematics from Pfeiffer University, then a Ph.D. in physics and a degree in underwater acoustics from the University of Tennessee in 1971.

The first job offer Martin received after leaving UT was the chance to work on Science Mission Operations for the Apollo 16 and 17. This included mission planning for both orbital and surface investigations – a job, he admits, that does not usually follow a degree in underwater acoustics.

“I’ve never had an Astronomy class in my life except for what was part of a general physics class,” Martin said.

He then took a job with Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVO) in January of 1973. There he conducted the laboratory research he had expected to pursue, but just a little over a year into the job, he was contacted by NASA headquarters about a job opening for the director of Solar and Terrestrial Astrophysics. During his time as the director, Martin worked on the development of Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, numerous Explorer missions, sounding rockets, operational satellites and all astrophysics research and development and data analysis.

In 1983, Martin became the director for Space and Earth Sciences at Goddard Flight Center. He then returned to NASA in 1986 as the Deputy Associate Administrator of the Space Station. Then in 1988 he helped to plan future visits to the Moon and Mars as NASA’s Assistant Administrator for Human Exploration.

Finally, in 1990 he left NASA to fill the spot of the director in Civil Space for Lockheed Martin during which time he held responsibility for contracts and mission development work of the Hubble Servicing Missions, Space Infrared Telescope Facility, Lunar Prospector and The Relativity Mission.

“By the time I was 35 I was the director of Astrophysics for the nation,” Martin said. “We were on the very front end of pulling together a plan for the great observatories, a plan to map out the cosmic background of the universe. And it’s nice being 35 and being in the middle of something like that because you don’t know what you can’t do.”

Martin used his own experiences as a growing leader in his youth to describe to UT faculty what makes and what breaks a team. For Martin, the 4-D System of teamwork is what created a functioning team that was fit to pilot rockets and conduct solar-terrestrial research.

Martin has found that most issues that teams face when they are presented with a problem is social context.

“My whole career has been an experiential learning experience,” said Frank Martin.

Martin has been involved in over 100 workshops that focus on developing teas through a 4-D System. Initially, NASA put missions together by randomly grouping people and teaching them about leadership and teamwork. NASA administration found that this was causing problems in the program, leading to accidents that resulted in small inconveniences and enormous tragedies.

Charlie Pellerin, Martin’s Deputy Director of Astrophysics, designed a system that would work specifically to create functional teams – the 4-D System.

Martin explained that the 4-D system begins with social context, or the driving force behind human behavior. It is what motivates a team to work together.

“Social context is what drives a team to win or lose. Have you ever been over to Neyland Stadium during a football game?” Martin asked. “You’re going to pull for your team and rightly so.”

Martin explained social context in terms of the 1986 Challenger disaster.

“We all know that there was O-ring involved and that the launch was in cold weather, and therefore, the physics and engineering of the problem guarantee a failure. It was just preordained,” Martin said.

When the presidential commission who reviewed the launch analyzed it, however, it was revealed that there were people in the system who knew the risks of launching, but their voices were not heard by the administrators who made the choice to leave Earth.

“It was social context that caused the failure, Martin said.

Martin described the 4-D system as existing on a Cartesian graph, or a graph with an x and a y axis who intersect at 0. The horizontal or x axis represents how people think, whether it is emotionally or logically. The vertical or y axis represents how people perceive, whether they are intuitive and can detect and infer evidence or they are sensing and rely on tangible evidence. The axes divide the plane into four quadrants of dimensions.

In the first quadrant that is the combination of emotional thinking and intuitive perceiving, is the nurturing dimension. These are the people who specialize in growing the team.

In the second quadrant, emotional thinking and sensational perceiving combine to make the including dimension. People who are associated with this dimension need to include others and feel included themselves for the team to thrive.

In the third quadrant, made up of the combination of logical thinking and sensational perception, is the directing dimension where those who lead and combine the other three quadrants reside.

The fourth quadrant is that of logical thinking and intuitive perceiving, creating the visioning dimension. This is where the planners and the thinkers thrive in a group.

According to Martin, it is through this system that teams find the most success.

“It is a mechanism for people to be heard,” Martin said.

He believes so much in the 4-D system that he has been the president of Martin Consulting, Inc., a company that helps space flight teams pass board examinations, since 2001.

The company facilitates workshops and sends professional coaches to meet with NASA administrators and develop a system that will grow better teams for the program.

“There are two things that really matter to me – empathy and accountability,” Martin said. “If you can’t be empathetic to others, then chances are you’re not going to be an effective leader, and if you can’t be accountable and own your piece of the work, then you can’t build trust.”

Taimi Olsen came back up to speak and encouraged faculty members to take what they had heard at the lecture and apply it in the classrooms, particularly with graduate students who are relying on communication to complete their graduate research.

“There’s a tradition where we get groups of students together. There’s a leader, a note taker, a recorder, and that’s really basic,” Olsen said. “We have an opportunity to really bring in some of that training when we’re working with our teams, and it’s important to spend that time on relationship building and communication.”

The lecture ended with Olsen presenting Martin with an award recognizing him as an accomplished alumni.

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