Avoiding the Abilene Paradox

Avoiding the Abilene Paradox

The Abilene Paradox was first put forward by JB Harvey in the mid-70’s. It says that a group of people can end up taking a course of action that none of them individually wants to take.

It’s a paradox because it happens when people try and be nice to each other. It starts when someone suggests a course of action based on what they think that someone else wants to do, that person does not want to appear rude at the consideration that has been offered so does not say no, even though they would rather not do it. Everyone else falls into line to keep the peace and a course of action is set that no one actually wants.

The net result is that time and effort is put into a pursuit that no one enjoys, does not yield a positive end result and eats up resources.

This couldn’t possibly happen to me I hear you say!

It happens every time you compromise on a course of action that you would like to take. If you do not have the trust or belief that your team can deliver your ultimate wish and you reset your demands based on what you think they can deliver the net result is that you don’t get what you really want. But equally important, your team doesn’t get the challenge they need or feel respected for their ability.

This is the route to disillusion and dissatisfaction for any business owner. Very often it is driven by a fear of the management issues around people. Asking people to step out of their comfort zone, do something that is not in their contract of employment or generally step up to the plate as it might be called.

There is too much competition today to allow this sort of compromise into your business. Avoiding it requires the development of a culture that rewards the pursuit of uncompromised goals with people who are motivated and understand the need for this approach.

Adopting this approach may challenge your own limitations as a business owner. It will require you to assess everyone you work with, employees, suppliers, customers, and partners. It means that you must be willing to state your objectives clearly to these people so that they understand where you are trying to get to and why. They must feel free to voice any concerns or doubts they hold and an adult conversation then has to happen so that you as the business owner can decide which route you want to take.

A decision taken in this way is not blind and most importantly this approach will flush out the doubters and naysayers who will derail any initiative.

The Abilene Paradox rarely happens in the presence of children because they are very vocal about what they do and don’t want to do, but it appears in businesses where the feelings of others has too great a priority in the way in which decisions are made.

Unfortunately The Abilene Paradox can be an issue for the very people who wanted to get out of the corporate world and its lack of care and concern for the individual. In trying to create an atmosphere that is caring and concerned they can end up with a solution that works for no one.

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