The Fruits of Civilization (44-4) Communication Dysfunction

Communication Dysfunction

These are complicated organizations, and unless they are assiduously managed, they can’t cope with the complexities of the technologies they are dealing with. ~ American organizational management maven Baruch Fischhoff

The most difficult operational aspect of managing a large corporation is information flow, something which too few corporate managers appreciate. This problem becomes amplified when a company produces products which have safety implications, which most engineered products do.

The Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania owed to a faulty valve: identical to one that got stuck at an Ohio nuclear plant a year and a half earlier. The builder, Babcock & Wilcox, failed to recognize the significance of the problem, and had not advised the operators appropriately. Nuclear plant operators were being trained to do the wrong thing.

Senior decision makers are basically isolated from safety information. ~ Iranian American systems engineer Najmedin Meshkati

General Motors had a string of safety defects in its vehicles. Most were due to communication mishaps between engineers and management. Mary Barra, CEO of GM, spoke of her company being “siloed,” with each department compartmentalizing its own problems and not communicating with others in the organization.

GM is by no means unique in this regard. There were no surprises in the kinds of difficulties encountered by drillers at the British Petroleum well that blew out on 20 April 2010 and fouled the Gulf of Mexico with the largest oil spill in history. By dint of failing to communicate, negligence is a common corporate code of conduct.

The information distribution network does not match the organizational decision-making network. ~ Najmedin Meshkati