Have you ever agreed on something that you knew it wasn’t the right choice?
This is known as the Abilene Paradox and it was initially observed by Jerry B. Harvey in his article – The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement (1974).
This is a crucial matter for any person working to achieve an effective Agile Culture, considering that Agile approaches counts deeply on collaboration and is seriously undercut when people can’t fully commit.
Harvey shows his point with a story. The story is about a certain family that made a very unpleasing 53 mile trip just to have dinner. It turned out that every member of the family agreed on going to this trip because they thought the others wanted to go, even though they personally would have preferred to stay at home. The truth eventually came out, leaving them all preplexed with the fact that they all decided to make a trip in which none of they wanted to go in the first place.
The point is that we all have a tendency to make mistakes, believing that our opinion is the minority, and choosing not to say what we really think. When the majority of a group says “yes”, we start to feel embarrassed that we might be the only ones saying “no”.
There are multiple ways to avoid the negative effect of the Abilene Paradox
Create a Safe Environment
Nobody wants to be the party pooper, accused of not being a colleague or a friend, just because they have a different opinion.
Humans are social species and they generally crave the need to feel that they belong to a group. If someone gives the impression of being an outsider, the empathy and understanding is instantly lost. Being relatable with someone is extremely linked to trust, which is a critical part to being able to collaborate and share information within the work environment.
So the basis of avoiding the Abilene Paradox is for leaders to create an evironment where people feel confortable and safe to share their own opinion, even if it’s different than from the other coworkers. If this is not the case, then people will feel ignored and will never speak what they truly think.
Disagreement is expected
The value of a team is to provide a range of skills and review issues from various perspectives, therefore disagreement will be a constant.
If it’s obvious who will review the data and make the final decision, then disagreement should be something that will only cultivate and verify the final result. In a argument, both sides should be analyzed before anything can be sustained with conviction – this is what is called the essence of analysis.
Listen to feedback constantly
When leaders show that they are constantly listening to different views, coworkers will feel valuable and will more likely have the confidence to fully commit.
Leaders should always be prepared and listen what their co-workers think. This will make them feel much more valued and confident to fully commit. Leaders should also be prepared and take the time to explain the reasons behind certain decisions. This can prevent potential conflicts before they are blown out of proportions. If we can see the conflict, we can help fix it. False statements made in companies every day may lead to extremely big impacts.
Many leaders surround themselves with “yes-people”. This makes their personality overwhelming to some people, and as a result people , may become afraid to say “no”.
Leaders need to be more aware of the importance of their workgroup, the effects that it has on people and on the organization itself.
This releases the power to innovate that is central to Agile Philosophy.