Book Notes: How NASA Builds Teams

How NASA Builds Teams: Mission Critical Soft Skills for Scientists, Engineers, and Project Teams by Charles J. Pellerin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I personally find the order of the book a bit confusing so I have re-ordered it here into a logical structure which works better for me.

The model has two dimensions – Information which is how you take in information from Intuitor to Sensor and Deciding which is how you take in the information and then make decisions which is from Emotional to Logical .

Sensors : like to know why something works and are not comfortable with ambiguity. They generally shy away from unproven theories and concepts.

Intuitors : are usually quite imaginative and enjoy dreaming about different scenarios, stories, or problems. They tend to live in the grey area and think outside the box. Their abstract minds constantly search for new meanings and are typically reflective.

Rely on my innter knowingRely on my observations
Think more about "what could be"Think more about "what is"
Prefer creativityPrefer common sense
Act on flashes of insightAct on careful analysis
Prefer wrestling with conceptsPrefer wrestling with facts and data
Prefer holistic perspectivesPrefer details
Love big ideasLove established reality

Emotional : the decision is chosen more because it feels right.

Logical : the decision can be proved to be right based on data and an accurate modeling of all the different parameters which may occur.

Harmony is intrinsically valuableHarmony is a means to an end
Prefer to act on "what feels right"Prefer to act on "what's logical"
Consider the people firstConsider the task first
Prefer harmounious relationshipsPrefer being right
Decide through concensusDecide with my own thinking
First, trust my heartFirst, trust my head
Intolerant of conflictOK with conflict

The two dimension result in four quadrants Cultivating (Information Intuitor and Emotional Deciding), Including (Information Sensor and Emotional Deciding), Visioning (Information Intuitor and Logical Deciding) and Directing (Information Sensing and Logical Deciding) .

Cultivating - They appreciate others , share interest in a better world, caring for others. People want to feel appreciated for what they do and to have shared interests. e.g. teacher, guru.

  • Attention - These people naturally attend to people's needs and universal values
  • Mindset - We are here as stewards - for others, family, for spiritual values
  • Behavior - Supporting others in being happy and successful
  • Results - Success without damaging people
  • Dangers - Can be victim, hyper sensitive, emotional, judgemental, unrealistic


  1. Individuals can fully meet the standard by appreciating others Habitually, Authentically, Promptly, Proportionally and Specifically.
  2. Individuals can fully meet the standard by addressing the interests they share with others, especially when conflict inhibits their effectiveness.

Including - They include others, bring integrity to relationships and build teams. To include people by appropriately sharing power, information, and recognition as well as keeping the agreements while renegotiating problematic agreements before they break them. e.g. people person, cheerleader. mediator

  • Attention - These people naturally attend to teamwork and relationships
  • Mindset - We are here to work together
  • Behavior - Facilitating teamwork and collaboration
  • Results - Success through harmony
  • Dangers - Rescuing, self-deprecating, conflict averse, needs approval, withdrawn


  1. Individuals can fully meet the standard by appropriately sharing power, information, and recognition, and avoiding wasteful over-inclusions.
  2. Individuals can fully meet the standard by only entering agreements they can keep, then rigorously keeping these agreements, while renegotiating problematic agreements before they break them.

Visioning - They constantly create and need to be the best/smartest. Reality based optimism about the future achievements and to be 100% committed to that achievement. e.g. genius, intellectual aggressor

  • Attention - These people naturally tend to ideas, concepts and being the best
  • Mindset - Big, novel ideas are the deal
  • Behavior - Generate and then promulgate their ideas (faster than other can respond)
  • Results - Success through excellence and innovation
  • Dangers - Rationalising, capricious, argumentative, critical, bostful, anti-authority


  1. Individuals can fully meet the standard by holding optimistic mind-sets, while fully embracing unpleasant realities, and then advocating appealing and credible future outcomes.
  2. Individuals can fully meet the standard by demonstrating 100% commitment to realizing their essential Outcomes.

Directing - They take organised action and direct others towards the result. Having a blame and complaining free culture and clarity on roles, accountability and authority. e.g. commander, director, executive/CEO

  • Attention - These people naturally attend to task, process and certainty
  • Mindset - Plan the work - work the plan
  • Behavior - Execute with discipline and rigor
  • Results - Success through process and consistency
  • Dangers - Blame, inflexible, judgemental, controlling, closed mindset, insensitive


  1. Individuals can fully meet the standard by avoiding blaming or complaining, and being intolerant of blaming or complaining by others.
  2. Individuals can fully meet the standard by defining and communicating their Roles, Accountability and Authority to the people who need to understand and/or approve them.

The book highlights the importance of playing in all four areas of the model they present and highlight that typically people have a primary corner in which they reside but that this does not result in the best for the person, team or project - so learning where you are strong and weaker is important to help grow in these other areas.

It provides eight questions for people to assess where they are within the model as well as where the team is. This is probably the interesting part as most other models look at just the individual but this proposed to ask the questions about the team to see how people feel about others.

Additionally the book provide some other interesting insights. The first is that the more you invest in people expanding their missing dimensions the more people improve and deliver.

When you are pitching projects think from the other side -where it the matrix are they looking form? How can we both want the same things? What is their perspective?

Another lesson was when you are coming up with a project you might need a Visioning leader however when this moves to an execution phase you might need to have more of a directing leader to keep things on track. You likely have a visioning team if:

  • Grants the most power to exceptionally capable thinkers
  • Argumentative without concern for ruffled feelings
  • Creative excellence over process and certainty
  • Process is driven by technical experts
  • If management or admin are haphazard and disorganised
  • If the members are chaotic and sometimes frustrating

Where as if you have the following you likely have a directing team:

  • Managers at the top of the org chart
  • Organised processes and management style
  • Process and certainty over creativity and excellence
  • Process driven by management
  • Management process are rigorous and documented
  • Behavior is disciplined and tightly organised

Red-story lines - to get things done you need to think in a positive way, this solves a disproportionate number of issues. Feelings such as "Improving my effectiveness is too hard" will result in no change, identifying Red story lines means that you can actively look at these and make them green.

Emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as technical skills and IQ for jobs at all levels.

Emotional Intelligence by Dan Goleman

Bring emotions to the front - identify things which make you and the team glad, sad, mad, scared and loved. Talking about these things creates a positive discussion with a no blame can do culture to fix things.

Turn blame or complaints into requests - either request something or let it go. Doing anything else is just a waste of your own effort and will get you no improvement.

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