On September 10, 2001, I delivered a presentation on terrorism and interagency coordination to an audience of American and Mexican military and government officials in Mexico City. My slide-deck, as it is known in military parlance, included images of the World Trade Towers and details of the 1993 truck-bomb attack, as well as open-source information on Osama Bin Laden. I had no special insight into the prophetic timing of my presentation, or of the magnitude of the events that would prove the resolve of both the perpetrators and targets of this infamous attack. There was, however, a foreshadowing regarding problems leading up to September 11th and which are present in most crisis events: the factors of trust and its impact on effective communication and coordination. I look back with a mix of emotions on the events of the following morning, because lack of unity and the silo-effect were contributing factors that plagued U.S. efforts to effectively develop a collaborative strategy of threat mitigation.
One legacy of this lesson is the development by the New York Police Department (NYPD) of an intelligence service which operates beyond the borders of the United States. The thin blue line of NYPD has determined that federal intelligence agencies failed to serve the City of New York, and the police have therefore taken matters into their own hands. This strategy, in the eyes of some, negates reliance by the City of New York on others for the most critical information concerning threats to the city. I suggest this model also highlights the underlying problem: trust. Trust, or its lack, is often mentioned as the reason that critical information is not shared among individuals and across organizations. Fragmented or broken communication, based in part on lack of trust, remains a threat to success.
How can any leader build or, more delicately rebuild, trust in order to foster the open and free exchange of information? One method is confidence-building-measures. This involves agreements between individuals and organizations in which each party agrees to take steps up an escalating ladder of good-faith gestures. Sadly, establishing or restoring trust and communication often occurs in the face of a breakdown, not as a standard business practice. Hindsight bias notwithstanding, I wish my presentation on September 10, 2001, had focused less on the pedantic protocols of interagency relations and more on the process of developing confidence-building-measures.
What will it take to move toward a model of trusted communication and away from fragmented and dysfunctional silos?