News headlines: Trekkers die in Nepal avalanche, Oct. 2014.
This is a story line that is played out in companies everyday.
In Nepal it cost people their lives.
In companies the cost is in conflict, resentment, disengagement, career-ending actions and money. Some people tragically lose their life in accidents.
It had been snowing in Nepal’s upper Manang district when groups of trekkers had to decide whether to proceed on their journey into the narrow valleys north of the Annapurna range.
300 trekkers decided to go ahead. Later that day, a torrent of rocks and snow swept down to kill 38 of them under meters of rubble.
As one trekker told the story, “My guide said, ‘Maybe this is dangerous. Better not go.’ But the trekkers, eager to achieve their goal said, ‘Oh, we can go.’
There were accounts of how some of the trekkers thought they should not go because they were on a narrow trail at about 4,000-metre altitude. They had seen and heard smaller avalanches.
The situation reminds me of a team building experience I’ve used it working with executive management groups called “The Abilene Paradox.”.
The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management by Jerry B. Harvey highlights how faulty decisions derail team productivity.
It occurs when everyone assumes other members of the group are in agreement with a particular outcome, yet on an individual basis they do not agree. But they do not speak up.
The Abilene Paradox is set in Texas. It is about a family who takes a car trip to Abilene on a hot 107° summer day without any air conditioning. After driving 51 miles each way; four plus hours later they return home. Exhausted, each of them reflect on how they did not want to take the trip in the first place, but did so because they thought everyone else wanted to go.
The group was not in conflict, they simply failed to work out an effective agreement. And for that reason, they suffered.
How often do you go along to get along?
Executive teams take the trip to Abilene every day.
How to you recognize it? Why does it happen? How do you prevent it?
Consider a decision your team is about to make. Are you getting ready to take a trip to Abilene?
Here is a check list you can use to avoid piling into the car to Abilene.
Ideally someone outside of your team will facilitate this process. Why? Because it is highly likely that your team has a norm of going along to get along. I’ve seen it a hundred times over. You need someone to “bell the cat.”
In steps 1 and 2, the facilitator speaks to each person separately, away from the team.
Step 1 – Ask if he or she agrees on the problem.
Step 2 – Ask what steps he or she will take to contribute to solving the problem.
If individual answers are different, move to Step 3.
Bring the group together.
Step 3 – On post-it notes put up the identified problems. Explore are we in agreement? Do not move forward until there is agreement on the problem.
If not, call them out, confront the collusion of silence, otherwise the team will on its sweaty, expensive, useless trip to Abilene.
How do you know if you’re on a trip to Abilene? Clear signs include, the lack of team members’ involvement, missing project deadlines, decreasing profitability and errors due to miscommunication.
The company will witness rising levels of blaming and scapegoating, leading to frustration. The cycle continues to repeat itself until the executive team learns to openly communicate their opinions with each other.
Why don’t people speak up?
There are many reasons. Some of them include:
Fear of judgements by peers
There is anxiety in expressing your beliefs for fear that someone else will judge you harshly or isolate you.
We often conjure up worse case scenarios, believing if we speak up it will cause pain, harm or embarrassment.
Negative fantasies reinforce our fears. Ultimately, they give us an excuse for not taking action.
Risks are unavoidable. Avoiding a risk is a risk. Every day we face them. Understanding the real threat of risk is a tough. Is risk possible? The answer is “yes”. The more appropriate questions are: What are the risks? How can we prepare for them? How can we mitigate them? Should we even take them? What are the risks if we don’t move forward?
How do you prevent a trip to Abilene
• Make sure you have the right people on the bus, if not, invite them on. Teams need a combination of It is important to have the right skills, knowledge and understanding of all of the stakeholder’s expected outcomes to make a good decision.
• Allow for ample discussion time. If people feel pressure to make a quick decision,they may decide to keep silent.
• Articulate the decision, get agreement on it, the expected results and when those results should be seen.
• Gather the facts and opinions ahead of time. Develop options. Analyze the impact of the decision.
Dr Jim Sellner, PhD., DipC. Author: Leadership for Einsteins: How Smart Leaders Bring Out the Genius in People. Available on Kindle and Createspace Nov., 2014.