It is being reported today (by the BBC and UPI, amongst other sources) that persons on the US ‘no-fly’ list were, in fact, allowed to board flights, owing to miscommunication and lack of information sharing between US government departments.
While the number of persons on the US ‘no-fly’ list allowed to board flights was small, the fact remains that miscommunication between institutional departments led to mistakes happening, which had the potential to place a significant amount of people in danger.
The US government is a huge institution, with many departments having different ‘cultures’ of operation. These different organisational ‘cultures’ often have different communicative practices, which can contribute to misunderstanding and miscommunication. These departmental and organisational differences can have unintended, negative consequences, as this situation demonstrates.
Miscommunication between institutional departments can happen for a variety of reasons: different (clashing) departmental practices; employee fatigue; interdepartmental rivalry; funding discrepancies; or bad feelings between individuals, amongst many other reasons. Often, there is not one single contributing cause of miscommunication, but a combination of several small issues.
Organisations should be aware of the great potential for miscommunication and consequential unwanted, negative outcomes. Often small changes to organisational practices – for example, a short interdepartmental email to announce a new project, acknowledging the value that individuals bring to a department, or even the simple act of saying hello – can help to break down barriers to open communication between departments.
Each institution, organisation, and department is different, and there is no one solution to the pervasive issues of miscommunication. Do get in touch if you would like to further discuss miscommunication in your organization, and how we can work together to improve it.