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. (more…)