Abilene Paradox

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The Abilene Paradox occurs when members of an organization take an action contrary to what they really want to do and, as a result, defeat the very purposes they are trying to achieve

The lack of the ability to manage agreement is expressed by six specific sub symptoms:
1) Individuals agree as to the nature of the problem or situation.
2) There is individual agreement as to the steps that should be taken.
3) Organization members fail to communicate their desires and beliefs to one another.
4) Inaccurate and invalid information is then used to make decisions.
5) Everyone is angry, irritated, and frustrated with the organization.
6) The cycle repeats itself.

What’s Behind The Paradox?
It is the lack of logic that characterizes a paradox.
While it might look like conflict, the blaming, defensiveness, and other behaviours that result from a bad decision – like the trip to Abilene – are really the signs of mismanaged agreement. But truly it is not about conflict; instead the issue is “mismanaged agreement”. Mismanaged agreement is the FAILURE to do what is needed to ensure that people are in agreement for the RIGHT reasons.

• Action Anxiety – common occurrence when we are asked to place our thoughts and opinions at risk in front of a group of our peers or supervisors
• Negative Fantasy – perceived risk happens to all of us – we tend to see the potential downsides – because they entail risk – more so than the potential benefits of speaking out
• Perceived Risk – must always be weighed – both the risk and the risk of inaction; our unwillingness to take risks may well bring about the negative consequences we so fear
• Fear of Separation – constant for all people; we enjoy groups, and worry about being excluded from them
• Confusion of Risk and Certainty – difficult to avoid; what we imagine will go wrong if we say what’s in our heart becomes more real to us than the far more likely disaster that will result from going along with the crowd

Remaining silent and going along with the group usually has consequences too, sometimes bigger ones than any form of action might hold. One consequence of not speaking includes lowered self-esteem – a personal risk added to the professional risk of a bad decision. Remember – you were hired for your expertise and opinions! Have confidence in yourself and faith in the value of your ideas.

Preventative Measures
While it’s always possible to turn the car around and head home, it’s much easier to avoid taking the trip in the first place! How To Break The Cycle…
• Manage communication by establishing debate
• Assign fact checkers
• Be a devil’s advocate
• Encourage organizational graffiti
• Managing the organizational context can enhance power and reduce risk
• The creation of the right kind of climate is essential!

When To Break The Cycle…
• Before meetings / while preparing for discussions
• During meetings or discussions
• After decisions have been made (before you arrive in Abilene)


One consequence of not speaking out includes lowered self-esteem, a personal risk added to the professional risk of a bad decision.

About 40% of the employees do not face anxiety, they are willing to take risk, do not fear separation and have the courage to stand against the tide. Only about 18% of the employees end up doing opposite of what they want and let a poor decision stand as they fear lowered self esteem. And the rest 42% decide as per the situation.

The employer takes risks as per the situation.

Are you happy with the system used in your organization for decision making?

Out of the survey conducted by us we found out that 92% of the employees are happy with the decisions taken and the procedures taken for decision making. The employer on his part makes it a point to take into consideration the views and suggestions of all his sub ordinates and makes decisions with the majority.

Are you...
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