NASA Paul Sean Hill

• Former NASA flight director Paul Hill said he clashed with his Russian counterparts at first, while working on a problem facing the International Space Station.

• Ultimately, he said the two teams were able to develop mutual respect for one another.

• Hill said demonstrating competence and bonding outside of the office helped turn the situation around.


You’re not going to automatically get along with everyone you work with.

Former NASA flight director Paul Hill ran into this problem around 1999, when he began working with his counterparts from Roscosmos — the Russian space program.

The two institutions had recently launched the International Space Station (ISS), and the Russian functional cargo block electrical system began to dim and run into battery problems.

Hill and his Russian counterparts had to fix the problem before they lost the entire structure.

“Early on, we were head-butting,” Hill told Business Insider. “Like you would see in the movies, Russians and Americans not getting along, not being helpful with each other. We couldn’t agree. Just the questions we were asking were pissing the Russians off.”

Hill, the author of “Leadership from the Mission Control Room to the Boardroom: A Guide to Unleashing Team Performance,” worked on 24 different space shuttle and ISS missions as a flight director and later led the investigation into the 2003 Columbia disaster.

However, he was also much younger than the leaders of the Russian team, which he said didn’t help the situation.

“The flight directors that I’m negotiating with were both old enough to be my father,” Hill said. “One was old enough to be my grandfather. They’d been doing this work for about as long as I’d been alive, if not longer.”

Hill said doing three things helped him earn their respect:

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