If you’ve read our article How The Abilene Paradox Video Improves Team Decision Making, you know that an inability to manage agreement can have a severely negative impact on a group’s ability to make decisions effectively. There are many different ways this paradox impacts decision-making: here are three that stand out the most.
- The Abilene Paradox Creates an Atmosphere Where People are Afraid to Speak Freely: A group “goes to Abilene” when a member of the team proposes an action and no one takes a stand against it. While individual members of the team may believe that the plan is not sound, their fear of possible negative consequences if they oppose the plan, or their desire to maintain group harmony, keeps them from voicing their true opinion. Instead of mutual accountability and honest communication, the team begins acting on inaccurate data or “false consensus”. The person who originally made the suggestion may not even believe it is the best choice, but if no one is willing to give a differing the opinion, a poor decision will be made.
- A Group Going to Abilene Won’t Evaluate Alternative Choices: A group going to Abilene is less likely to evaluate alternative choices when making a decision. Effective decision making requires this type of thorough investigation. When team members don’t voice concerns or opposition to an idea with which they disagree, the decision will likely be given the green-light and other (perhaps better) options will not be presented.
- Potential Problems are Not Identified: When a group goes to Abilene, it does not engage in a rigorous discussion of a decision’s potential downsides. Instead, group members simply agree to go along with the suggestion, regardless of its merits. When a decision is made without being tested, problems are bound to come up. Groups that can productively debate a decision are much more likely to identify potential issues before they occur, allowing them to think of contingencies instead of being blindsided further down the road.
Avoiding the Abilene Paradox
Recognizing when your group has fallen prey to the Abilene Paradox, and addressing it before any final decisions are made, can dramatically improve your business’s decision-making process. Look through our previous article on the Abilene Paradox for more details about how to recognize it in your workplace, and what to do to put an end to it.
Recommended Training Resource
“The Abilene Paradox” is a bestselling video that uses the story of a family domino game to demonstrate how problems with group decision making can stem from agreement. Use it to build skills in preventing false consensus, improving group decisions, and overcoming fear of speaking out.