Abilene Paradox | Meaning and Definition

Abilene Paradox, to put it simply, refers to a scenario when a collective decision made by a group is at variance with the perceptions, feelings, and thoughts of its members. It is commonly credited to the tendency of people to avoid rocking the boat, even if they can spot the holes in the policy, plan, or decision being taken.

They dread coming across as an odd bod or naysayer, thus, preferring to keep aloof from the communication and voicing their opinion. The desire to preserve the group’s harmony, which manifests as a false consensus, results in poor decisions and missteps. 

A bit of history

The phenomenon is as old as the human race itself. However, it was noticed, studied, and elaborated by Professor Emeritus of Management Jerry B. Harvey at George Washington University. He laid the paradox at the door of our instinctual preference for social conformation- that is, not to go against the group’s sentiments and perceptions.

Take an example

Suppose a team leader called a meeting, presented some points, and eventually arrives at a decision. However, other members are asked about how they see the things, their stand on the idea, etc. Unlike the expectations, the team member all seem to see eye to eye, claiming it is remarkable. This is not always because the decision was fantastic, rather due to the lack of mutual accountability, transparent communication, and fear of being a killjoy that’s at play there.

Abilene paradox meaning is synonymous with groupthink which also involves aligning oneself with the opinions and feelings of a group. However, it differs in that in the former; individual members possess contradictory opinions about the final decision. 

 What to do, then?

Groupthink and the Abilene paradox are potential killers of innovation and dynamism in teams. One needs to establish strong bases of open communication and encourage opinion voicing, even if it deviates a lot from the decision being made. Who knows, maybe your brainchild surpasses others in its totality and efficiency!