The recent release of the film “Deepwater Horizon” is a shocking reminder of what has become known as the worst oil spill in US history.

The film highlights the role that poor workplace relationships played in the disaster and the disastrous consequences of “relational issues”. Such issues can affect any workplace. Most of us ignore them, either because we can’t see their cost or because we can’t see what to do about them:

  • Management structures – the improper use of power in the relationships between senior BP officials and the Rig owners Transocean were key to creating a culture where lack of trust and respect fuelled the apparent animosity.
  • Lack of communication from the frontline operational rig team men to senior decision makers who chose to ignore concerns of those who knew hands on that corners were being cut.
  • Lack of sharing of knowledge and information led to important and key messages not being delivered in a timely fashion

A culture of “every dollar counts” at BP led to the fatal Deepwater Horizon disaster according to Bob Bea, an expert in catastrophic engineering failures and a former BP consultant, who said the disaster was a “classic failure of leadership and management in BP” at the civil trial in New Orleans in 2011.

Why are we so slow to learn from such “classic failures”?

In a world that measures the financial cost of so many issues, why are we so slow to measure the cost of relational risk?

You only need speak to either party in an acrimonious divorce to know the cost of relationship breakdown.

We are so preoccupied that we rarely take the time to consider the relational risk in our workplace and its potentially disastrous consequences.

So, how can the key messages about relationships in Deepwater Horizon help us to reflect on our own relationships, in personal life as well as in business?

Leaving your personal life to you, here are some key questions that you might wish to consider regarding your workplace this week:

  • In what ways is your management structure impacting the levels of trust and collaboration and ultimately impacting the full potential of the organisation?
  • What policies, processes, routines or behaviours mean that ideas and insights from other staff are never offered or, worse, ignored?
  • What is the cost of poor communication?
  • Does your organisation objectively measure and systematically manage relationships within the organisation, as well as relationships with other organisations, and indeed your organisation’s relationships with the wider community?