At Slapton Sands in 1944, the allies were rehearsing for D-day.
They had 10 landing craft full of men, protected by two small, elderly warships.
But they didn’t bother meeting beforehand to check they were all on the same radio frequency.
So that night, one of the warships had to turn back, but they couldn’t tell the 10 landing craft.
Then, German E boats began attacking, but the landing craft couldn’t tell each other.
By the morning three landing craft had been sunk and a thousand men were dead.
And this wasn’t the real thing remember, just a rehearsal.
You know what the real problem was?

Lack of internal communication.
Later that same year, Montgomery tried to land parachute troops behind enemy lines at Arnhem.
The idea was to capture a bridge and hold it until reinforcements arrived.
But the radios the parachutists were given didn’t have the range.
And no one had dared, or bothered, to tell Montgomery that.
So the parachutists couldn’t hold the bridge.
Around 2,000 were killed and over 6,000 captured.
You know what the real problem was?
Lack of internal communication.
In his book Bravo Two Zero, Andy McNab tells the true story of a mission in the Gulf War.
SAS troops were dropped behind enemy lines.
But the mission went wrong and they tried to call a helicopter to get them out.
But their radios didn’t have the range.
So all but one of the soldiers were killed or captured.
You know what the real problem was?
Lack of internal communication.
In the First World War the biggest naval engagement in history took place at Jutland.
Over 60 enormous battleships, the biggest in the world, faced each other.
250 warships in total, and the Royal Navy could have destroyed the German fleet.
But the smoke from the funnels of all those ships obscured the Royal Navy’s signal lamps and semaphore flags.
Nearly all the German ships escaped, because the British didn’t have radio in those days.
You know what the real problem was?
Lack of internal communication.
In the Crimean War, the Light Brigade were asked to retrieve a few British guns the enemy were towing away.
But the man delivering the message, carelessly pointed to the wrong guns, and the Light Brigade attacked the entire Russian artillery by mistake.
600 of the world’s finest cavalry were destroyed by cannon fire.
You know what the real problem was?
Lack of internal communication.
Often, in any high stress situation, what goes wrong is down to lack of internal communication.
One lot of people can’t, or won’t, tell another lot of people what they want them to do.
They just assume they know.
They don’t think it should need spelling out.
But, of course, the other people don’t know.
They aren’t mind readers.
And most of the time it does need spelling out.
And one lot of people don’t do what the other lot expects them to do.
Because of lack of internal communication.
That’s how we all are unfortunately.
We assume people will know what we want them to do.
So we don’t think we need to bother telling them.
We don’t communicate.
Then, they don’t do what we want and it all goes wrong.
And we lose a pitch, or a client, or a good ad.
Just because we are too stressed, or too lazy, or too embarrassed to communicate.
And we are shocked and amazed when it goes wrong.
And then we put lots of effort into sorting out who’s to blame.

The effort we could have put into communicating in the first place.

  • michael rowland

    Your main point, surely, is that internal communication is not just talking but also being open to listen. One thing business can learn from those military examples is: don’t obey orders without question.  

  • Dave Trott

    Totally agree Michael.

  • john woods

    Brilliant examples, Dave
    Incommunicado just doesn’t cut it.
    Luckily all I was ever under fire from was footballs. I quickly became very adept at telling my back line what to do. Sometimes during the games they took offence as to my tone but that didn’t deter me. 
    They quickly appreciated it was all for the greater good.

  • Dave Trott

    Tony Adams said the same thing John.
    At first, when he used to shout at the defence to get them organised, everyone thought he was cocky.
    But eventually it resulted in the best defence Arsenal ever had.

    • john woods

      That hand up for offside routine he perfected must have come in handy at a crowded bar too.

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