October 18th, 2014
In our last article, “The Abilene Paradox – How You Can Skip the Trip”, we explained how group members who sense their group is “going to Abilene” can own up to their true feelings in the presence of the other group members. We further explained that –if the person has misdiagnosed the situation and there is no Paradox operating in the group– by speaking up, the group member has at least opened the door to honest discussion and debate. However, if the situation has been correctly diagnosed and the Paradox is operating in the group, the group member will typically hear nothing but relief on the part of others who’ve been struggling with the course of action the group has agreed to take.
But, what about preventative measures? Are there things that can be done at different stages of the decision-making process to help groups skip the trip entirely? The answer is yes! And, a great deal of the responsibility falls on the group leader to make sure these practices are put into place (1) before decisions are made, as information is gathered (2) during meetings and discussions, and (3) after decisions are agreed upon. Those practices include: Read the rest of this entry »
October 15th, 2014
Ever wonder what your employees are thinking about you?
If so, you’re probably a better-than-average leader who takes the time to observe body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, so you can tell when someone’s frustrated, confused, or just plain upset about something that’s happened.
But even in the best of manager/employee relationships, you’re probably not going to get the type of in-depth honest feedback that might help you make real changes. Even in organizations where 360-degree reviews are consistently used, feedback isn’t always timely – or completely honest.
So what’s a manager to do when s/he wants to improve?
It goes back to observation, and to caring about what your team thinks and feels.
It’s not hard to learn how people act when they’re upset, hurt, frustrated, or angry.
It’s not hard to notice when something you’ve done has triggered their reaction.
It can be hard to be honest enough with yourself to acknowledge the connection between your actions and their reactions, and to be vulnerable enough to explore how you might do things differently in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
October 13th, 2014
In our first article of this series, we learned how a family trip to Abilene on a 104-degree Texas afternoon led Professor Jerry Harvey to discover what he calls “The Abilene Paradox.” The paradox occurs when groups take actions in contradiction to what the individual members really want to do. Remember that Professor Harvey described the Abilene Paradox as the inability to manage agreement rather than the inability to manage conflict.
We’ve also explored six tell-tale signs that will help us recognize when we might be on a” trip to Abilene” and four underlying psychological dynamics that create the conditions for the Paradox. The question is…what do we do about it?
If we believe our group or organization is caught in the Paradox – and is “on the road to Abilene” –Professor Harvey recommends we speak up and confront the Paradox in a group setting. Working within the context of a group is important, because the dynamics of the Abilene Paradox involve collusion among group members.
The first step in the confrontation is to “own up” to our true beliefs and be open to the feedback we receive when we share them. By owning up, we let others know we’re concerned that the group may be making a decision based on inaccurate data. To illustrate this, let’s revisit this workplace scenario (from article two). Read the rest of this entry »
October 6th, 2014
In our previous two articles we introduced Professor Jerry Harvey’s concept of the Abilene Paradox and how it affects group decision making in both our personal and work lives. We also reviewed six tell-tale signs that a group or work team has stumbled into the Paradox and is “on the road to Abilene.”
In this post we will explore the psychological underpinnings of the Paradox. Why would a group of people (families, companies, or even governments) take action in contradiction to the data they have for dealing with a problem and, as a result, compound the problem rather than solve it?
According to Professor Harvey, group members are impacted by a number of psychological factors.
- The first principle is action anxiety—an intense uneasiness created when we think about acting in accordance with what we believe needs to be done. Action anxiety occurs as we anticipate the results of taking action, and the results we foresee are negative instead of positive.
- Negative fantasies or perceived risk are visualizations where we focus on the harmful effects resulting from our actions, rather than improvements to the situation. They provide an excuse for not taking responsible action.
Read the rest of this entry »
September 30th, 2014
In our previous article we wrote about a humorous family “trip to Abilene” and the concept of the Abilene Paradox. We also discussed
how the Paradox affects us in both our personal and work lives. Today, we’ll explore six tell-tale symptoms of the Paradox.
Remember that professor Jerry Harvey described the Abilene Paradox as the inability to manage agreement rather than the inability to manage conflict. This inability to manage agreement is the essential symptom that defines individuals and organizations caught in the web of the Abilene Paradox.
Consider this workplace scenario:
Sue, Tony, Jasmine and their manager, Chris, all have strong reservations about implementing a proposed procedural change. Individually, each one is convinced the change will cause more problems than it will solve. BUT, because the proposed change was suggested by a highly-paid consultant, and because no one else is voicing their concerns, each individual claims to support the plan (when they really don’t). The procedural change goes forward…seemingly with unanimous consent. Later, when troubling operational issues surface, the group members get annoyed with one another and blame the consultant for giving bad advice. Eventually—despite a hefty investment in the flawed new procedure—the organization decides to go back to the old way of doing things. Susan, Tony, Jasmine and Chris never discuss the matter again. Read the rest of this entry »
September 24th, 2014
What do a 104-degree Texas afternoon, a game of dominoes, and a cafeteria have to do with making good workplace decisions?
In his classic article, “The Abilene Paradox,” professor Jerry Harvey tells the story of his family’s decision to drive their ’58 Buick – with no air conditioning – 53 miles to Abilene for supper.
When they returned home several hours later, hot and exhausted, it turned out that none of them really wanted to make the trip. Each family member revealed that they would have strongly preferred to stay home and play dominoes. As professor Harvey describes the situation: “Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who, of our own volition, had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in a furnace-like temperature, through a cloud-like dust storm, to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go. The whole situation simply didn’t make sense.” Read the rest of this entry »
September 18th, 2014
In The Strategy of Meetings, George David Kieffer writes that the meeting leader must “make the team believe that (1) the group is worth being with; (2) individual members will have an opportunity to influence the outcome; and (3) the cause is one that warrants their attention and effort.”
As a meeting leader, how might you get these messages across? Here are a few ideas:
- Justify the need to call a meeting in the first place. Many valid reasons exist to hold meetings: to inform and discover, build unity, allow a dynamic question-and-answer session, make joint decisions and generate ideas. But there are also plenty of times when assembling a meeting isn’t the best use of everyone’s time; when the work can be accomplished, or the information communicated, just as efficiently (or more efficiently) via phone, email or one-to-one conversation.
- Before assembling a team and calling a meeting, identify the general purpose and specific objectives. For example, for a customer service problem-solving meeting, specific objectives might be: Determine why the customer service department is missing its deadlines 75% of the time; identify and evaluate ways to decrease turnaround time to 48 hours or less; find a solution that can be implemented before the end of the third quarter and assign responsibility for implementing the solution. These sample objectives are results-oriented, emphasizing specific outcomes. (An example of vague objectives for the same meeting might be “Find out how the customer services reps are doing and, if improvement is needed, kick around some ideas for making things better.”). When possible, link meeting objectives to organizational goals.
Read the rest of this entry »
September 16th, 2014
Story-telling is proving to be far more than just the latest training fad. As reported in the July/August issue of Training Magazine, major companies in industries ranging from high tech and high finance to high touch – and everything in between – are turning to story-telling as a powerfully effective way to inform, engage, and educate at every level of the organization.
Companies such as Sprint, the Ritz-Carlton, Hewlett-Packard, and many others both on and off the Fortune 500 list are embracing story-telling for everything from leadership development to customer service training and employee recognition programs. In fact, it seems like there’s no educational or communication initiative that doesn’t respond well to a little (or a lot of) story-telling.
So how can you bring story-telling into your organization’s training efforts?
- Start with a clearly-defined project.
A project like new employee orientation would be good for several reasons. With onboarding, there are typically clear objectives, clear learning points, and you can easily determine how well new hires integrate into the organization. Onboarding presents opportunities to tell the story of how the company got started, along with stories that reflect the values and culture of the organization. (Other test project options could include the rollout of a new technology, a new leadership-development program, or the announcement of a new policy.) Read the rest of this entry »
September 12th, 2014
When it comes to retaining and motivating your best, most highly-skilled workers, here are five important things to remember:
People want to work in a positive, supportive atmosphere. Leaders set the tone by communicating well and being available to support problem solving.
People want to grow and be challenged. Leaders can support employees’ attempts to keep learning and broadening their skills, and can mindfully assign challenging tasks.
People are motivated by different things, not just financial compensation. Leaders can become more aware of what encourages each individual to achieve his or her best. Read the rest of this entry »