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Right Hand Versus Left Hand

The Inquisition is a hundred different schools of thought, divided by a single goal.
Lord Inquisitor Nihilus, Warhammer 40,000

Communication is the key to life. Good communication will lead to productivity and fewer wasted resources. Bad communication will only lead to headaches and heartbreaks.

In any sort of story, good communication will often be counterproductive to comedy and drama. But even in a dramatic sense, there are moments when the lack of communication is why two people are enemies, simply because they don't know what side the other is on. In a large organization, the intended goals are not always entirely clear to everyone. Sometimes the project is so secret that the two groups don't know the other is working on it. These will often lead two parts of the same group doing counter-productive things, not knowing what the other is working towards.

Hence the saying "The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing."

Sometimes this will lead to civil wars, a Face-Heel Turn, a Heel-Face Turn or simply to follow the age old goal that Hilarity Ensues. If you want to introduce likable but misguided antagonists to tangle with the heroes and villains, this is a good way to keep them fighting everyone and stay relateable. Usually, if it's one side that insists on not comparing notes, it's because they're an Ineffectual Loner who will sooner or later get creamed by the bad guys.

Eventually, you can be sure that the protagonists' side will win out over the other, or both will eventually sit down and talk things out once a member of each group go Go Karting and can vouch for the other. Expect someone to note "it could have been avoided". This doesn't need to be limited to two sides either, it gets very common with Loads and Loads of Characters acting independently of each other, but constantly bumping into each other because they all share the story.

Interestingly enough, there could almost be more Truth in Television examples than fictional examples.

See also Two Rights Make A Wrong, Flock of Wolves, Poor Communication Kills, Let's You and Him Fight, Interservice Rivalry, Calling The Cops On The FBI, Civil Warcraft (often a result of this trope), Conflict Ball, Friend or Foe, and We Are Struggling Together. A romantic version is the Two-Person Love Triangle. No connection to Evil Hand or The Night of the Hunter. Or, for that matter, a fight between Master Hand and Crazy Hand.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • The final showdown of the third Rebuild of Evangelion movie. Both Shinji/Kaworu and Asuka/Mari were actually trying to save the world. But the first faction was given wrong intel, believing that grabbing two certain artifacts would return the post-apocalyptic Wasteland they live in to a habitable state, when all it will actually do is to devastate the earth for good. Shinji , greatly agonizing about having to fight a former comrade, even tried to talk and explain, but Asuka, probably believing that he was willingly working for the villains, just charges him with a glaive, clearly intending to kill him, putting him in a hopeless situation where he'd disregard the vague warnings of Kaworu (who'd noticed something was off), and pull the doomsday devices.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Exactly What It Says on the Tin. This is the name given by the series for multiple individuals participating in chains of events that while independent have an end result that seems planned or coordinated. I.e. multiple groups strive for the same goal and the end result looks like it was done by one group.
  • There's some tragic backstory for a doppleganger in Vision of Escaflowne. He was impersonating an army soldier during a war, and struck down an enemy soldier, only for the enemy to be revealed as another doppleganger—his brother.
  • In Seirei no Moribito, most of the cast turn out to be working toward the same ultimate goal; the conflict comes from the fact that the two main groups involved have very different ideas about exactly what's going on and what needs to happen in order to see that goal accomplished, and have no communication between them for most of the series. Once they do start communicating, they soon manage to align their efforts.
  • On Kino's Journey Kino encounters a rail road worker who spend the last twenty years of his life cleaning and maintaining a seemingly unused stretch of rail road. When she travels along the same railroad she encounters another railroad worker who spent the last twenty years of his life disassembling the same rail road. And finally she meets a rail road worker who spent the last twenty years of his life reassembling the railroad. Ultimately Kino chooses to tell none of them that they wasted the last two decades of their life.

    Comic Books 
  • Mortadelo y Filemón:
    • If Mortadelo and Filemón take separate ways in order to solve a problem (say, capture a baddie, finding things or laying on traps) they will very commonly screw up each other's plans.
    • In some stories El Súper gets tired of waiting and appears on the scene to spy on the duo or to get the mission done by himself. This can only end badly.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In nearly every modern monster movie it would be easy to defeat the monster if the human characters would stop bickering and cooperate. This is usually because if the special effects budget is too small to feature the monster a lot, having characters argue is an alternate way to introduce combat and suspense. Handled well this can be an effective way to introduce human drama and suspense. Handled badly it generates frustration among the viewers as it can involve handing characters the Idiot Ball and making the monster seem non-threatening.
  • The bad guys engaging in this saves the Mariachi's life in Desperado. Danny Trejo's master knife-thrower is seconds away from killing him when a bunch of gunmen drive up, mistake Trejo for the Mariachi, and shoot him full of holes. When they get back to base, their boss is on the phone to his bosses, who are telling him about their master knife-thrower who they've sent to town.
  • The entire plot of 2 Guns is driven by the fact that neither of the two leads — an undercover DEA agent and Navy Intelligence officer — knows that the other is undercover as well. The fact that their respective dirty superiors are working together and deliberately keeping them in the dark doesn't help.
  • Discussed in Cube. It's eventually revealed that the giant death maze which the protagonists find themselves trapped in was—bizarrely—built without a genuine purpose. One of the architects who worked on the project concluded that there wasn't a malevolent master plan behind it, but was the result of a bureaucratic mix-up with separate agencies all working on different parts of the structure and putting people in it without knowing about each other's existence. Whether he's right is ultimately left up in the air.
  • The end of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where Quasi is madly fighting off the Gypsies who are trying to save Esmeralda, believing them to be bad guys, and helping the guards who are trying to kill Esmeralda, believing them to be good guys. What a tragic, tragic setup.

    Literature 
  • Half the plot of The Wheel of Time rests on this trope, for both sides. It would have been a much shorter series if people simply talked to each other. (The other half resting on those same people just not caring and feeling that they alone should be the ones running the show.) This is particularly infuriating from the Aes Sedai, part of whose function is meant to aid co-operation and lead the fight, but who are laughably incompetent and mind bogglingly arrogant, splitting into several factions and still demanding everyone follow their lead alone. Everyone else simply follows their lead in trying to deal with things.
    • Luckily for the good guys, the bad guys are doing much the same thing, and not just because of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. A lot of loyal villains, working toward the interest of the Big Bad, accidentally undermine the efforts of other villains due to lack of communication (which is not that surprising, since they're all in disguise). Ultimately, the bad guys may have been more directly responsible for the victory of the Light than anyone on the side of good.
  • Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn runs into this repeatedly, being on the run from the rest of the Inquisition for much of his novels.
  • Dan Abnett's Ravenor has to operate free from the rest of the Inquisition in Ravenor Returned, which results in the Inquisition's declaring him rogue in Ravenor Rogue and hunting him.
  • There are aspects of this in the Honor Harrington Series. The First one (not admitted to until decades later in-universe) was that the ship in book 1 was intended as a test bed alone by BuShips. The First Space Lord goofed by putting it near any sort of combat.
    • Becomes huge issues later with the Peoples Republic of Haven. The fight to overthrow the Legislaturalists has all sorts of issues with differing factions in the government and the rebellion fighting. Later there's State Security and various different factions and heads often not keeping each other in the loop.
    • It only gets worse as the second Manticore/Haven war could have been averted entirely. Granted we now know that most of the communication failures, both inside the Republic's government, between Manticore's allies, and between Manticore and Heaven themselves are all part of a plan to that exact purpose.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. A major gripe of the protagonist, especially in "A Season for Slaughter", vis-a-vis his covert employers the Uncle Ira Group. The Uncle Ira Group on the other hand are constantly annoyed by his habit of going off half-cocked at Obstructive Bureaucrats instead of trusting them to handle things behind the scenes.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 novel Grey Knights, the secrecy of the titular Space Marine chapter and their operations is used by the Big Bad in order to set up a Let's You and Him Fight.
  • This shows up in Starfighters of Adumar. General Wedge Antilles, an Ace Pilot of no small skill, is sent as an ambassador to the largest nation of a neutral world called Adumar, not because of any political acumen, but because the Adumari are pilot-mad. It's expected that the diplomatic liaison will tell him what to do, and Wedge will mostly be there to look good. But he gets shut out of everything but flying duels, and he refuses to kill Adumari in these duels. The liaison tells him that he should kill them; it's native custom and by not doing it he makes the New Republic look weak. The Imperial pilots kill in duels, and they look strong. Wedge refuses. The liaison talks the leader of this particular Adumari nation into going to war with the others to unify the planet, and it's expected that Wedge and his pilots will fight in this war - the Imperial pilots are doing it. Wedge refuses, and the ruler basically calls open season on him and his pilots, letting everyone try to kill them. They escape through a combination Indy Ploy / Xanatos Speed Chess, find that the New Republic flagship in orbit won't respond when they comm it, and go to ground, where Wedge finds that the liaison told the ruler that Wedge wanted to fight, but had been ordered not to and wanted to be killed honorably.
  • In Catch-22, two CID men are sent to Pianosa investigate someone who has been using the name "Washington Irving" on confidential letters. Unfortunately, neither one of them know that the other is on the base, and both are convinced that the other is in fact the person they have been looking for.
  • In almost all of Dale Brown's books, Patrick McLanahan and his team find about as much opposition from American military forces and politicians, at times all the way up to the POTUS, as they do from the actual enemy.
  • Grant finds this problem when he takes command of the Army of the Potomac in The Last Full Measure. He wonders if one reason for Lee's earlier success was that the Union army was simply too big to effectively communicate with itself.

    Live Action TV 
  • A staple of Kamen Rider.
    • Pretty much everyone is afraid of Gills in Kamen Rider Agito. Oftentimes, they assume he's an enemy and attack. This is not helped by the fact that Ryou doesn't often wait around to get or give explanations. As a result, he spends at least as much time fighting would-be allies as he does fighting actual enemies.
      • In addition, there was some initial confusion between Agito and G3. The former attacked the latter, branding him as an undesirable in the eyes of the police, despite frequently saving G3 afterwards.
    • In Kamen Rider Faiz, both Takumi Inui and Yuji Kiba were fighting against the evil Smart Brain corporation. But thanks to a whole heap of misunderstandings, Contrived Coincidences and stolen Transformation Trinkets, each thought that the other was The Dragon of Smart Brain. For a time, they were even friends in their human forms and enemies in their battle forms and never knowing.
    • In Kamen Rider Kabuto, the Heroes R Us organization has some highly shady higher-ups that our heroes and their Reasonable Authority Figure don't realize they're fighting, though the viewer does. And it turns out their allies aren't on the level. Then it turns out that the non-shady side of ZECT is unknowingly working for the Natives, that is, the non-shady members of the monster race known as the Worms. But one of them is in fact very shady and has his own plan different from that of anybody else. In other words, it's ZECT versus ZECT from start to finish, Worm vs. Worm with the introduction of the Natives, and Native Worm vs. Native Worm with the revelation of that hidden scheme revealed near the end. On top of that, ZECT has a "with us or against us" policy, and not all Riders are working for ZECT, so it's Rider vs. Rider more often than in any other series other than Kamen Rider Ryuki and its Highlander-like situation despite no Rider wanting the Worms to exterminate and replace humanity.
      • Even the Non-Serial Movie manages to pit ZECT against itself twice over: There's ZECT vs. Neo-ZECT (former ZECT members who want to create an organization that's like ZECT minus the douchebaggery) and then ZECT vs. the higher-up who wants the Worms to win because they store the memories of the humans they replace - he believes this is the only way for something of humanity to survive the post-apocalyptic world that occurred in the movie timeline For Want of a Nail.
    • In Kamen Rider Kiva, The Wonderful Aozora Organization, and especially Nago, are bent on killing Kiva because they think he's a Fangire. They're half-right, but in actuality, Wataru wants to protect people from the Fangire as much as they do. Nago and Wataru almost kill each other several times before everything is cleared up.
    • Several versions of this trope occur in Kamen Rider OOO, most of them unusual. In a rather literal example, Ankh and Lost Ankh fight each other at every opportunity, despite technically being the same person. In a still-odd but more traditional example, Eiji and Ankh frequently keep from each other important secrets, like the locations of Core Medals and plans to throw Eiji off buildings as bait. Weirdly, in this instance, the opposition is not at all due to accident and is, in fact, expected. They may have similar goals, but that doesn't mean that they won't undermine each other to reach said goals.
  • Arrested Development: Nearly every episode is a mash-up of characters trying to keep the family out of trouble, but only making things worse. In the penultimate episode the criminal charges were dropped when it was learned that CIA East was using the Bluth family as a puppet for espionage, which the CIA West knew nothing about. The two department desks were right next to each other.
  • During the second half of the first season of Person of Interest, Reese recruits both Detective Fusco and Detective Carter to help him, but neither of them knew the other was working for him until Carter held a gun at Fusco, thinking he is helping HR kill Reese. Fusco admits his affiliation with Reese and the detectives both realize their playing for Team Machine.
  • One of the funniest M*A*S*H episodes ever had an Army Intelligence officer and a CIA officer both show up in the 4077th pretending to be wounded to investigate Frank. Pierce and Mc Intyre have a lot of fun messing with Frank's file to convince both of them to barge in and arrest him at the exact same time for conflicting reasons.
    • However, this might not be a straight example, as both men technically knew which side the other was on and why they were in conflict. The confusion was created later by Hawkeye and Trapper.
  • There was an episode of Night Court that featured a substitute judge filling in for Harry; the substitute propositions Dan Fielding for a bribe, and Dan goes to the FBI. Hilarity Ensues, until eventually the bribe is consummated, and two groups of FBI men charge in. To quote the lead agents: "Bert?" "Ernie?" Turns out that the judge was working for the FBI in the first place, and was propositioning Dan as a Secret Test of Character. (I remember it purely because of the "Burt?" "Ernie?" punchline.)
    • An episode of Benson did the same.
  • Spooks plays with this in the last episode of Season 7 in particular. Section D are trying to stop a Russian nuclear bomb in London, but the FSB are hunting them through the streets. Harry realises the local FSB office probably doesn't have clearance to know about the bomb, since they'd all be killed in the blast. Once he tells them what's going on, they join forces and the FSB take out the bomb carrier so that the weapon can be defused.
  • In the the sixth season of The West Wing, Leo has a heart attack, leaving the White House temporarily sans Chief of Staff. One episode shows Josh and Toby flailing around the capital, making promises that cancel each other out, leading to a Republican complaining that "the left hand doesn't know what the far left hand is doing."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has one particularly amusing example: Spike and Faith have both gone through Heel Face Turns since they last saw each other, so when they meet again they fight due to each believing the other to still be evil.
    • Happened in a similar manner on Angel between Spike and Cordelia in the fifth season.
    Spike: She's evil, you gormless tit.
    Cordelia: Excuse me? Who bit whom?
    Angel: Did you call me a tit?
    Cordelia: I thought he had a soul.
    Spike: I thought she didn't.
    Cordelia: I do.
    Spike: So do I.
    Cordelia: Well, clearly, mine's better.
  • Happens all the time in Power Rangers. Most notable was the season where the series Grew The Beard, Power Rangers in Space, where such infighting was how the Big Bad got defeated.
  • There's a great scene in NCIS when Ziva discovers people spying on her and Tony (they're undercover). The agents and the spies spend a few minutes shouting "Federal agents!" and pointing guns at each other before they realize they have the same goal. This is just one of many episodes in which federal agencies have trouble working together.
  • Played in the Nash Bridges episode "Javelin Catcher". While Nash is trying to locate and apprehend a man before he blows up his former boss with a rocket launcher, Evan arrests the suspect for soliciting a prostitute. After the suspect is released, Nash almost mentions the trope by name.
  • Subverted on Prison Break. Linc and Michael are working at cross purposes during season four, and decide to go after Scylla separate from each other. But because of brotherly love, they still share information.
  • In the Burn Notice episode "Mind Games" Michael and Co. attempt to take down a loan shark. The first step of their plan: convince him that his trusted lieutenant is actually an undercover cop. Unfortunately, the guy actually is an undercover cop. So instead of framing him, they inadvertently blow his cover. Oops.
  • Season 1 of 24: Gaines asking Jack to kill Nina.
  • This is the central theme in The Wire. Time and again, organizations and people within those organizations fails to work together for the greater good of the whole due to personal ambition, poor communication, outright malice and simple incompetence. This is symbolized early on when several police officers fail to get a desk through a doorway until they realize that both sides are trying to push the desk into the opposite room.
  • In season 4 of Sons of Anarchy the FBI, ATF and Justice Department are all working together to bring down the Sons who have allied themselves with a dangerous Mexican drug cartel. They do not know that the cartel leaders are actually CIA operatives who are using the Son's IRA connections to gain enough influence in Mexico's drug organizations to avert a possible Mexican civil war.
  • In the MacGyver episode "Honest Abe", Mac and the titular Abe seek to bring down a Banana Republic dictator and a corrupt Army Major supplying the latter with weapons. One of the Major's two flunkies eventually reveals to the other that he's an undercover FBI agent and offers him immunity if he cooperates...to which he replies he doesn't have to since he's he's also an undercover agent from the Office of Budget and Management. The FBI agent then says "Boy...talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing" and the other replies "We don't even know what our own feet are doing!".
  • The Thick of It features endless disasters that could have been avoided if the various participants were willing to coordinate properly, (though admittedly things progress/degenerate so fast in their world that they often simply don't have time for anything but off-the-cuff responses,) but Season 4 has more than the previous ones because half of its time is spent with the coalition government. This latter case is made even worse than usual cases of this trope by the fact that the two ministers hate each other, follow violently opposing party principles, are constantly trying to score political points for their own party (usually at the expense of the other,) and the person who is meant to be liaising between them is a particularly unhelpful Obstructive Bureaucrat.
  • This comes up on Chuck almost to the point of being a Running Gag. The CIA doesn't like the NSA, and both of them look down on the FBI. And then of course there's the DEA. The very first episode starts with Sarah (CIA) trying to keep Chuck out of Casey's (NSA) hands even though both were ordered by their superiors to locate the stolen Intersect, and the next episode involves Casey convincing Chuck that Sarah may be rogue. The team frequently butts heads with foreign intelligence agencies (MI6, the French Secret Service, etc.) precisely because no one has bothered to tell the team (or Beckman and Graham) that other agencies are even involved (and in at least one case the team was ordered to interfere regardless to get the credit first). And let's not even start on all the ways operations have been fouled up because one or more team members went off on a rogue mission.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side had a comic where the left hand was juggling a set of balls while the right hand scrawled out "The Left Hand Must Die" over and over again. The caption, of course was "Truly, the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing."

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Take any two major subfactions of the Imperium of Man from Warhammer 40,000. The Space Marines, the Inquisition, the Adeptus Mechanicus... any two. Chances are they're each working to undo something one of the others has done or is going to do. The Inquisition actually has Right Hand Versus Left Hand as departmental policy, and so much factional infighting occurs within that organization that they made an entire game about it. This is partly a pragmatic decision - you need to provide the opportunity for any two armies to be able to fight each other.
    • There is an example in the game's fiction of an incident early in the history of the Imperium, before Imperial Guard equipment and uniforms were regulated (well, closer to regulation) in which two armies of Guardsmen from different worlds encountered one another, each deciding that the other must be a hostile force. Several thousand were killed before the commanders on either side realised what was going on.
      • The Shira Calpurnia novels demonstrate this to almost depressing levels. The first novel alone demonstrates the minutia of political (and literal) conflict and vested interests between the Adeptus Arbites, Ministorum, Ecclesiarchy, Navy, Navigators, Astropaths, Sorroritas, and the Inquisition, all of whom are meant to work together. And this is just in one hive of one planet in one of innumerable sectors in the Imperium.
      • There is actually a good reason why this is the case in the Imperium, during the Horus Heresy, Horus was able to turn roughly half the military (including ships, Space Marines, Mechanicus and Guard regiments) to his side without anyone noticing. This, and other incidents such as the Age of Apostasy, means that all Imperial organisations are encouraged to distrust and compete against each other, to make sure no one man can ever accumulate enough personal power to threaten the Imperium.
    • In fact, this is standard operating procedure for nearly everyone in 40k. The Eldar craftworlds distrust one another, the Chaos subfactions are, as the name implies, rather chaotic and opposed to each other, the Dark Eldar will rape and kill anything that moves, the two active Necron star-gods are distinctly opposed to each other, and Tyranid forces from different splinter fleets will attack and consume one another on sight to test out each others' biological enhancements. Orks get special mention for being almost biologically incapable of working together unless a powerful Warboss unites them on a WAAAAAAAAGH!. The only faction that seems somewhat united are the Tau, and they've got Commander Farsight off doing his thing.
      • With the Tyranid example, the winning side will then consume all of the bio-mass out there (from both sides), convert it into new warriors, and end up with a force of the same size of the two individual fleets combined but with only the more capable designs. This is an overall 'bad thing' for everyone else in the galaxy.
      • Often, it's not. This is because dealing with one enemy is much easier than dealing with two. For example, the Imperium regularly wipes out smaller Hive Fleets using genetically engineered viruses. Each Hive Fleet requires a different virus. Therefore one Hive Fleet is easier to deal with than two.
  • Half the fun of a good game of Paranoia. (The other half is the ensuing hilarity).
    • And it's not just the party...Friend Computer's programming has endured centuries of stress, disappointment, full-on disaster, Computer Phreak fiddling, the rivalries and politics of the Ultraviolet elite, and (naturally) paranoia, and as a result will frequently issue instructions that contradict themselves, such as issuing people with high explosives from R&D, ordering a field test, and announcing that failure to return them intact will be considered treason. (Naturally, this being Paranoia, it's quite likely the explosives will end up being used to kill off the rest of the party at some point).
      • This is a lie spread by Commie Mutant Traitors. Friend Computer has never issued contradictory orders. Please report to the termination center in the nearest Violet section, Red Citizen.
  • In Exalted The Empress intentionally ran The Realm's government this way (both the missing information, and clashing agendas variations) in order that it would always need her management to function. This causes problems when she disappears.
    • The celestial bureaucracy has this problem in spades too. Several groups of gods aren't cooperating or sharing information out of spite, jealousy, to hide their own unlawful actions, or because they just don't know what they're doing and nobody's noticed yet. And the Sidereal Exalted (who are meant to be carrying out the will of Heaven) have magically rewritten history to avoid letting the rest of heaven know about any of their dodgy business.
  • A common feature of the World of Darkness, both old and new. Your biggest rivals are often members of your own supernatural faction due to their proximity to you as well as the wheels-within-wheels plans of your superiors.
    • In a meta way, this occurs in both Unknown Armies and Mage: The Ascension. In both games, the various human supernatural elements are rivals, but also represent an ascension or unity, even apotheosis, of humanity as a whole. It's really pronounced in Mage, as the "villainous" Technocratic Order was felt to be a Designated Villain by much of the fanbase (they oppose the "good guys," but they're also responsible for checking the monsters preying on humanity and for every technological and medical advance since stone knives and fire, meaning everything that gives a sliver of a chance for humanity to free itself from the evil forces of the setting). Cue frequent cries of Not So Different.

    Video Games 
  • Fire Emblem 10 (Radiant Dawn) has a lot of this. two nations are bound by a blood pact which forces them to work for the bad guys and apparently they can't even let the good guys (their former war buddies) know about it, even if they converse on the battlefield. Depending on the exact nature of the blood pacts though, most of that bloodshed probably would have had to happen even with good communication.
  • Halo 2 had political machinations abound, leading to a power struggle between the Elites and the Brutes to be the honor guard (or the right hand...) of the Prophets. In the Expanded Universe, it is shown that various parties within the UNSC also do not agree with each other.
  • In Fatal Hearts, The two groups are old enemies, but they have essentially the same goal in the course of the story. However most endings have one or both groups being destroyed in the end. Only one actually has the two groups come together in a peace talk of sorts.
  • Team Fortress 2's War! Update has since revealed that both the RED and BLU team are controlled by the same Administrator. In fact, the whole War! was started just to prevent this fact from getting out.
  • Due to paranoia, many of the assassins in Hephaestus in Bioshock thought the others were snitches or rats. A notable example is Kyburz, one of the assassins, turning in Anya Andersdotter who was asking questions so she could get past Ryan's defences.
  • Technically, you and Zeeaire in Neverwinter Nights 2 have a common enemy, but you find yourself at cross-purposes with her soldiers until you kill her at the end of the first chapter and she gives you a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero speech. Depending on your choices you can point out she was being a massive Knight Templar, and her bullheadedness destroyed any chance of an alliance between you.
  • Basically, in 358/2 Days, Saix vs any Organization XIII member who was talented in anyway that could threaten his status as Xemnas' right hand man. And just who does he use to do this? His friend, Axel. He does this so much that Axel gives him a nice little warning:
    Axel: "Just remember: I helped you get to the top. Just don't fall on the way down."
  • In Alpha Protocol, one of your missions is to travel to Taipei to stop Omen Deng, a legendary Chinese super-spy, from assassinating Taiwanese President Ronald Sung. As it turns out, Deng is actually a Taiwanese Deep Cover Agent and his real mission in Taiwan is to prevent you from assassinating President Sung. The two of you are so involved in foiling each other's plots that the real assassin is able to get to Sung almost literally under your noses. (He can still survive, but only if you were able to provide him with evidence of the plot beforehand, something that Deng evidently never thought to do.)

    Webcomics 
  • A lot of problems in Girl Genius are caused by the good and semi-good guys being unable to get together and compare notes and realize that they're on the same side.
    • On the up side, they've pointedly averted this when it comes to lead Agatha and love interest Gil, by spilling the whole weird story to Gil as soon as possible. But this trope is still in full force when it comes to the Baron Wulfenbach, Gil's father - who not only doesn't have the whole story on Agatha, but now has good reason to believe that Agatha is brainwashing his son into following her. And a really good reason not to talk to her.
  • Oglaf (warning, comic in general is NSFW) had a case where some shapeshifters infiltrate a royal court to assassinate the king. Turns out the king had been replaced by another shapeshifter. One of the assassins might have known.
  • In Cheer!, two different attempts to ruin Alex's speech for class president end up canceling each other out: Tamara replaces her speech with utter nonsense and throws Alex's real speech in the trash, while Sharon steals the paper she thinks is Alex's speech and replaces it with "some paper she found in the trash".

     Western Animation 
  • An old Scrooge McDuck story, where the entire plotline focuses on him fiercely competing with another company in some specific area (ultimately, the object was unimportant), spending millions on R&D and commercials in an attempt to increase his market-shares, and yet, the competitor kept coming out ahead. Finally, just when he's collapsing in tears, one of his sub-managers comes in to deliver good news: One of the corporations he owns has delivered a smashing financial report, having seized most of the market... in the same equipment, of course. Meaning he's wasted millions competing with himself.
  • The Kids Next Door are having a cereal party. (The "bowl": The Grand Canyon!) Toilenator wants to be a respected villain, so he flushes the cereal, killing the party... and Mr. Boss' plan to attack them at said party. Whoops!
    • "Operation E.N.G.L.A.N.D" revolves around Nigel running from a group of kids who are trying to steal a parcel that he's supposed to deliver to the British KND, at the end of the episode the kids manage to catch up to him and angrily explain that they are the British KND.
  • Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century has "The Case Of The Man With The Twisted Lip," where Holmes, investigating an apparent murder, comes across a beggar with a torn lip who he thinks is suspect in the case. As per the original, he's right to be suspicious and try to apprehend him—turns out the man is actually the supposed victim. It gets weirder. The now-beggar is actually an undercover British Intelligence agent who had faked his death because his former identity was found out when he infiltrated a criminal organization. Then, British Intelligence shows up to take him away... only the men that turn up are fake British Intelligence agents who want to wipe his memory and ensure that the organization's secrets are lost. The real agent is recused, however, and he admits he took Holmes for a criminal trying to silence him and fled instead of accepting Holmes' help, which would have gotten him back to safety sooner. New Scotland Yard was never told what was going on by their higher-ups and it very nearly led to a severe loss for them, but Holmes and Lestrade prove crafty enough to figure it out.

    Truth In Television 
  • This is sometimes given as the reason for Nazi Germany not using/developing further the technology that it invented.
    • Generally, in Nazi Germany, it wasn't normally the case of not knowing what the others were doing, but more of each department (or leader) wanting to develop it independently and not share any credit with anyone else.
    • Since Adolf Hitler didn't show a great deal of interest in the day-to-day running of his government, his top ministers engaged in what they called "Working Towards the Fuehrer", where they would try to formulate policy based on his vague directives and ranting speeches. This worked out about as well as you can imagine. On the other hand, when Hitler did get personally involved he often made things even worse.
    • It also really didn't help that a good portion of the German scientists that were experts in the field were of the "Undesirables" and had either fled the country, or ended up dead.
    • As a contrast, apparently the Army wanted the Manhattan Project tightly compartmentalized, but Robert Oppenheimer insisted that science didn't work well that way.
      • The Manhattan Project WAS highly compartmentalized, it's just that it got so big (larger than most European Government ministries and some European Governments) that the compartments by necessity had to be pretty big too.
    • Also on the theme of Nazi Germany, there were several intelligence agencies - each run by a different high-ranking Nazi Party official - in direct competition receiving the same information. Hitler's eugenic policies as applied to the German intelligence community didn't end well, suffice to say.
      • The Abwehr was run by one Admiral Canaris, a Navy man and not a Nazi official. As it happens he was actually on good terms with Reinhard Heydrich, head of the SD (the intelligence arm of the SS). Though that friendship turned sour as Canaris was actually a leading figure in the Resistance, whilst Heydrich was quite loyal to the Nazi ideology, and as they started to really appreciate each other's natures each man moved to bring the other down. The Abwehr differs from the other Nazi examples in that it sought to actively undermine the Nazi effort, and probably played a role in Heydrich's assassination, but was not averse to co-operating with other agencies. It just so happens that these agencies were usually British.
    • The entire Nazi army was split up by Hitler in rather insane ways to make sure each part was too weak to overthrow him. Instead of the normal "army, navy, and air-force," set up, each group had varying sizes of battalions from all three, which at times caused confusion over who had command over which troops.
    • Nine different organisations, among them the German Post Office, had a nuclear program.
  • 9/11 might have been prevented if the CIA and FBI and other agencies communicated with each other about the hijackers. But they distrusted and disliked each other.
    • As a rule, pretty much all American federal organizations seem to suffer from a massive inter-agency distrust and rivalry. Then there's the whole inter-branch issues between the different branches of the military.
    • Also usually issues of strict rules on who can do what. The CIA may figure out who the Russians have as a spy in a meeting in Vienna, but have to work with the FBI to do anything. The firewalls between them to prevent abuse of powers mean often the FBI wasn't told what they needed to know.
      • There were also legal issues involved. The FBI's primary mission is law enforcement; its job is to investigate crimes and obtain evidence with which to successfully convict criminals in a court of law. The CIA's primary mission is espionage; its job is to find out things that other nations or hostile groups wish to keep secret. One of these two agencies has to worry about whether or not evidence it gathers is legally admissible in a court of law, and one of them doesn't. This results in the CIA often knowing things that the FBI not only doesn't know, but can't be told — because by the "fruit of the poison tree" doctrine, one piece of illegally obtained evidence invalidates not only itself, but everything subsequently found in the investigation as a result of following up on the original, inadmissible, lead. The problem re: 9/11 lay in the fact that the laws did not take into account that the FBI's counter-intelligence division does not suffer from this mission limitation, as CI's primary mission is not to build a clean criminal case either. One of the purposes of the Patriot Act was to change the rules so that the FBI in its counter-intelligence role could be brought into espionage compartments that the FBI in its law enforcement role couldn't touch.
    • There's also the fact that both the CIA (Aldrich Ames) and FBI (Robert Hanssen) had been infiltrated by high-level Russian spies in the last decade. Hanssen was arrested in February 2001, and so the CIA would have been even more cautious about trading confidential information at the critical time.
      • During the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Army, Navy, and Air Force each wanted to take the lead on getting the hostages out of Iran, so that none of them could hog all the glory. So they came up with a compromise plan. The result? Catastrophic failure. Afterward, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was created out of the special operations branches of all three services. The Marine Corps followed suit... eventually.
  • Practically standard operating procedure for large IT corporations:
    • While Apple Computer provides dozens of instances of this, the classic example is the near-simultaneous barrage of the competing Apple ///, Lisa, Macintosh and IIGS platforms, all developed alongside each other by different feuding kingdoms within the company. At first Jobs tried to straighten it out, but ended up in one of the factions.
    • Just in the described period it led to the Macintosh XL debacle, when Apple tried to sell the already underpowered and overpriced Lisa as a upmarket version of Macintosh and failed, and their killing IIGS simply because it was seen as cannibalizing Mac's market share: they were similar enough in performance and usability, but GS was sold at significantly lower profit margin. Apple /// plainly sucked though.
    • Various parts of Sega's American and Japanese divisions all tried to launch an entire solar system of extraterrestrially codenamed products (CD, 32X, Saturn, etc.) Plus numerous other, often incompatible, combinations thereof). The resulting collision landed with a dull thud in the marketplace and was largely responsible for obliterating Sega as a hardware manufacturer.
      • This was also part of the reason behind Sonic X-Treme becoming Vaporware; the team behind the game was split in two and given different parts of the game to develop, with no communication between them. By time Sega of Japan representatives came to check up on progress, the two parts of the game had been taken in wildly different directions.
    • One of the most interesting cases of this in history was the background maneuvering in the Napster civil suit: Sony, manufacturer of computer products, saw Napster as a profitable way to get more people to use computers, and therefore funded much of their legal defense. However! Sony, entertainment and intellectual property owner, saw Napster as stealing their products through Digital Piracy, and therefore also funded most of the suit! Sony has been described not only as a feudal kingdom, but as "four separate companies, without a word to say to each other".
      • This is also evidenced by some Sony DVD players, where it's possible to disable their region coding, and user's manuals actually tell users how to do it. Electronic manufacturer division greatly profits from the sales of the DVD players, which are boosted by movies availability, but IP owner division loves to wring the last coin from the watchers, which is more easily done by such things as a regional-specific prices and release dates, hence the regional codes. The disabling manual appears to be a some sort of an uneasy compromise.
    • Nokia. The infighting of Symbian group and Mee Go group, and then Stephen Elop came, apparently without leaving Microsoft paycheck. Official statement? "Windows Phone 7 is our way forward and we won't port Qt to it. But we are still developing Qt."
  • Nearly every instance of friendly fire in military history. It's all too easy to mistake a friendly unit for an enemy under bad conditions.
  • Depending on which era of American military history you're studying, the branch rivalries will either equal (semi)friendly competition or this trope, complete with withheld information that ends up killing troops and fierce fighting over funding.
    • One quote by Curtis LeMay, Air Force general. "The Soviets are our opponents, the Navy is our enemy." On the other side of the coin, the so-called Revolt of the Admirals, an unprecedented public protest by high-ranking Navy officers to the shifting of budget priority from aircraft carriers to the Air Force's nuclear arsenal. Part of this was the Navy wanting nukes of their own (they got them, in the form of the ballistic missile submarine) but another was to maintain sufficient conventional force and flexibility of deployment to fight less-than-nuclear conflicts. Since the number of wars involving nuclear ballistic missiles is currently zero, this is somewhat Vindicated by History.
    • The concept of "Jointness" is designed to try to reduce the branch rivalries. Its success is varied. At budget time, you can pretty much bet each service will receive the same amount of money, regardless of need. And the US Marines always get special treatment, as they really push the "we are Marines" more than anything.
    • And some countries, like Canada, tried to solve the problem by simply amalgamating all three branches into one unified Force with an overarching command structure.
  • This one's often cited as one problem in the GM bankruptcy drama. Eight divisions, each with separate dealer networks, separate bureaucracies right up to very high-level management, all trying to push towards building the same cars for the same customers. Worse yet, they often build exactly the same car with a different name, selling them at separately-owned dealerships in a city too small for the coverage, and have the dealerships spend thousands per car competing with each other to sell the same car to the same person.
  • A literal example of this trope is people who have their corpus callosum severed. It's possible for someone to be buttoning up their jacket with one hand while the other hand is unbuttoning it. This is known as Alien Hand Syndrome.
  • This is a very important issue to look out for in the computer science industry, as there are often many individuals/groups contributing to a single project but not actually working together and great pains must be taken to ensure all their code will work together smoothly.
  • Mao Zedong often deliberately encouraged this among key players in the Chinese Communist Party (withholding critical information, being deliberately ambiguous, or feeding them outright lies), so that none of them could gain enough traction to challenge his power or discredit him after his death. Even more cunningly, he often permitted his wife or his really trusted lieutenants to speak for him, so that he could maintain some semblance of plausible deniability.
  • The Raj and The Men of Downing Street were almost two governments. This messed up foreign policy quite a bit; several times an allied prince could not tell what it was exactly that the British were doing because they had two foreign policies going on. This could lead to suspicions of treachery in cases where only red tape was to blame.
  • "CBS sends a YouTube takedown to itself". The title tells it all.
  • Sony Entertainment shuts down Beyonce's official YouTube site.
  • A drastic surge of equally humorous stories emerged of companies/artists being taken down or issued warnings on their own properties, largely due to updates to YouTube's EULA and copyright policies allowing said companies to more easily send out these notices, up to and including automated "bots" scanning through videos and channels and automatically sending out instant-takedown notices... without first checking if it was their own channels. This overeliance also lead to instances where entertainers or video game producers were getting take-down notices for posting their own, original material, nevermind something like a Suspiciously Similar Song or a Standard Snippet that should be protected under Fair Use or public domain. Combinations of these technical difficulties and PR nightmares have lead to the practices being slightly drawn back.
  • Music Matters apparently managed to vigilantly slap down... their own ads on Google Reader.
  • It is generally a bad idea to be in competition with yourself, resources are needed to maintain an edge in an aggressive market. Those resources have a hard enough time fighting against genuine competitors and maintaining competition against yourself doubles those resources. The only way to make even is by dominating a given market. Say there are three restaurants on a given intersection, all other things being equal those restaurants will acquire 33 percent of that market. If the parent company of one business was to open another branch in the open spot on the intersection it would reduce the market share of the other businesses from 33 percent to 25 percent, including the one they already own. The big difference is that the parent company now controls 50 percent of that market when before they only controlled 33 percent with the one business there. It ends up doing well for the parent company but it hurts the sub-franchise.
  • A government regulation on the US banking industry is designed to prevent this. The Loss Mitigation department (the guys trying to help you keep your house) would often be in a race with the foreclosure department to see who could get their paperwork through first.
  • Playfully invoked by Jan Lehmkämper, who has two music projects: X-Fusion (Industrial and Aggrotech) and Noisuf-X (EBM and Power Noise). Their official facebook pages often fling insults at eachother.
  • Mentioned by name in the case of Flavius Aetius, a Roman general most famous for his victory over Attila the Hun. After Aetius' own emperor personally assassinated him (the emperor had been persuaded by two of Aetius' rivals that the general had threatening dynastic ambitions,) a member of the court told the emperor "I am ignorant, sir, of your motives or provocations; I only know that you have acted like a man who has cut off his right hand with his left." He was absolutely right; two of the conspirators (one of whom was the emperor himself!) were murdered by the third in revenge for them backing out of their side of the bargain. Not only that, but the murders happened while the emperor was surrounded by soldiers...who had been faithful followers of Aetius, and didn't lift a finger while he was being stabbed to death.
  • This is also a common problem in academia. Though all are theoretically devoted to the broader cause of advancing human knowledge, in practice there is a substantial amount of competition for funding and prestige between universities, and departments within individual universities. Even when relations between departments are friendly, the degree of Crippling Overspecialization in many academic fields, especially the natural sciences, means that scholars in one field may not have the information necessary to realize that they could benefit from the assistance of scholars in another. One of the most famous examples comes from Laboratory Life, in which two labs staffed by biologists and biochemists labored in vain for the better part of a decade to understand the structure of the hormone TRFH, then solved the problem in a matter of months when one finally thought to bring in an analytical chemist.
  • Many examples from the various branches of the BBC.
    • In the early days of the internet, the BBC launched BBC Online as a third medium division alongside television and radio. It included content about BBC-produced entertainment. Meanwhile, BBC Worldwide launched Beeb.com. It focused on BBC-produced entertainment. There was some dispute over how to resolve the duplication.
    • In the late 90s and early 2000s, it was generally assumed that even if anyone wanted to produce Doctor Who for television again, the television rights were too widely scattered to be feasible.
      • BBCi decided to produce a Doctor Who webcast for the 2003 40th anniversary, on the grounds that it didn't look like anybody else was ever going to make Doctor Who again. After much dodging of the question from legal, they managed to get hold of someone who could give them something resembling a straight answer: "The Terry Nation estate owns the Daleks, therefore you cannot do Doctor Who." After getting this person to comprehend the notion that they wanted to do a Doctor Who story without the Daleks, they got the straighter answer "Doctor Who itself is owned by the BBC and can be produced with no trouble at all, while certain races, villains, and characters are owned by their creators". BBCi went ahead with production.
      • When the new BBCTV controller stated publicly that she would like to bring back Doctor Who, but the rights would likely be too thorny, fans hammered on BBCi's inbox with questions asking if they were sure they were okay legally. BBCi put up a page clearly explaining the status of the rights.
      • BBCTV executives called in the head of BBCi demanding to know why he told the internet he thought he had the rights to make Doctor Who. He brought in all of his correspondence with legal that said it was alright. He left with the confidential information that the show was going to be returning to television. Suddenly the webcast BBCi was making because nobody else was ever going to do anything with Doctor Who on television again became a minor footnote next to the anniversary surprise that Doctor Who was returning to television in a few years' time.
  • Can happen in split judiciaries: Common Law-Equity in Britain - see Bleak House, Federal-States in The United States or Ordinary-Administrative in France:
    • In France the Tribunal des Conflits settles the cases of Jurisdiction Friction.
      • In 1932, a bloke named Rosay got a car crash with a military truck and got contradictory decision from both streams. Since then, the Tribunal des Conflits can make final rulings in these cases.
    • John E. Brennan, a 50-year-old technology consultant, stripped naked at the Portland International Airport in protest of the serarch of the FSA, was cleared by a trial judge, who ruled that his stripping was a form of free speech, but was then tried in a TSA court under administrative charges and sentenced to pay a $500 fine.
    • A crowning example would be during the Teapot Dome scandal, where Secretary of the Interior Fall was convicted of receiving a bribe from Ted Doheny... but in a separate trial, Doheny was acquitted of the charge of having allegedly bribed the Secretary of the Interior.


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