She worked at the restaurant of the new Hyatt Regency – landed as a summer job. Not yet 21, she couldn’t work the bar or serve alcohol, so she did her time as the hostess. But it gave her an amazing view. Because the restaurant was up on the fourth floor and it overlooked the beautiful lobby.
This lobby, in the year that the hotel had been there, had not ceased to amaze people. It’s highlight were walking paths – suspended in the air. Today that might not sound like much, but this was back in 1981 and trust me, it was a big deal.
There she stood, looking out over the lobby when the unthinkable happened. It was just after 7 pm when everything turned upside down. Because as she watched, the walkways (normally suspended from the ceiling) came falling down. Almost as if the whole “floating” thing was temporary.
And indeed, it was. Structurally and architecturally speaking, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
Over 100 people died and over 200 were injured, back one day in Kansas City.
The mistake was ordinary
The collapse of the walkway at the Hyatt Regency in 1981 was, until the collapse of the Word Trade Center in 2001, was the largest structural failure in US history.
But the mistake wasn’t huge. It wasn’t monumental. It wasn’t a conspiracy or planned act – like the terrorist act on 9/11. Instead, it was simply the consequence of an ordinary mistake.
The culprit was clear
You can assign blame to the engineering company, which happened. Or to the architectural firm involved, which also happened. You can imagine suing the hotel or the landowner.
But in reality, the culprit of this tragedy is pretty clear.
You see, the design company that proposed the design set it up one way. Some would still say the original design might not have been good enough to sustain the load of those walkways. But they created a design. And they thought it was solid.
The contractor that had to produce what had been designed pointed out flaws and created a different design.
Sound familiar? How many times have you worked on a project where the second team to look at something finds things they want to change, after the first team has looked at it.
These are the consequences of poor communication
Iterative design, like iterative development, only works when you circle back with feedback. It has to be focused feedback and it needs to be a priority.
Unfortunately, in this case, there wasn’t much focus or feedback. And the result of this poor communication was fatal.
Of course, I picked a particularly tragic version of what happens when teams don’t communicate well, but trust me, I had a ton of examples to pick from.
At the end of the day, poor communication is a by-product of:
- Not giving yourself enough time for feedback loops
- Not believing there is something for you to learn from feedback
- Not systematizing a process for regular feedback
- Not making sure all the right folks are in the room at the right time
And when you fail on these fronts, you end up with poor communication. And when you end up with poor communication, you may end up dealing with the consequences – which can be anything from hurt feelings to death.
Are you just waiting for a disaster to happen?
I regularly work with teams looking to improve their output and performance. More often than not, the folks that invite me in to offer some help start by asking what tools they should use.
Is there a special tool that will help distributed teams? Is there a tool that will help them plan better? Or keep each other aware of the tasks they need to focus on?
Unfortunately, tools don’t solve the problem. And in some cases, they can make matters worse. You think a little info is bad. Try dealing with tons of info. It can be just as bad.
But if tools aren’t the problem, how do you make sure disaster isn’t around the corner?
Three tips I share with teams
Meet more so you can meet less. It’s counter-intuitive but I find that daily meetings reduce all my other meetings to a tiny number. Before I had regular “pulse” meetings with staff, I was invited to tons of meetings. So man, in fact, that I wouldn’t start my real work until the day was almost done.
Make the assumed explicit. There are tons of assumptions about who knows what within and across teams. I challenge people to take what they assume others already know, and own the sharing of that information. Even if, and especially if you think they know it already. You’ll be surprised by who didn’t know something.
Poor communication is a choice. Whether it’s motivated by fear, an unwillingness to have conflict, or anything else, not communicating honestly is as much a choice as communicating honestly. Inactivity is still a choice. And sometimes the costs and consequences are far worse than getting over the fear of being honest.
If you’re looking to help your team become high performers, or on a team of folks struggling with poor communication, hit me up via my contact form. I’d love to see if I could help.