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An explanation of the Abilene Paradox

The theory known as the Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement was created by Jerry B Harvey, a professor of management science at the George Washington University in Washington DC. After a personal experience, he realised that organisations often take actions, contrary to what they really want to do, and thereby, defeat the very purpose of the action.

The real Abilene Paradox

Where it started Jerry B Harvey was enjoying a game of dominoes on a hot afternoon in Texas with his wife's family when his father-in-law offered to take everyone to Abilene for lunch, even though the heat was stifling and the food in Abilene was unsatisfactory and too expensive. Nobody really wanted to go to Abilene, not even Harvey's father-in-law. To be polite, and because each member of the group thought that everybody else wanted to go, they all agreed to go. Disagreement over agreement Once the family had returned home, however, they all agreed that it had been a waste of time and money to go to Abilene. Everybody would have been much happier if they remained at home playing dominoes. The result was that each member of the group blamed everyone else. For instance, Harvey's wife said that she had only agreed to go because it seemed that everyone else wanted to go and she did not want to be seen as a dissenting voice.

Consequences in management

Inability to manage agreement What Harvey tried to prove with his theory was that the inability to manage agreement is just as counterproductive to a professional situation as it is to a personal situation. Thus, there is no effective communication in business. For instance, if an agreement is not properly managed, it can lead to dysfunction in an organisation. This occurs when the members of an organisation fail to communicate their beliefs or views accurately to one another. Conclusion Harvey stated that the inability to manage agreement was more damaging than the inability to cope with disagreement. He showed that the Abilene Paradox led to very poor business decisions and ultimately undermined an organisation rather than strengthened it. However, as proved by the actual Abilene example, a simple acknowledgement from all people involved that they had, by trying to feign agreement, contradicted the group's actual collective belief. This is one of the first steps to rectifying what Harvey described as an insidious problem.

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