Critique of The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement
Written by Jerry B. Harvey, The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement discusses how organizations and leadership teams plan projects, events, and/or research studies and these projects can gather momentum and take on a life of their own, despite the face that no body wants to take part in them or claim responsibility for them when they fail (Understanding the Abilene, 1991). While it is difficult to find information regarding the author’s childhood, according to Wikipedia, the author, a native of Texas, is currently Professor Emeritus of Management at The George Washington University (2010). Jerry B. Harvey has served as a consultant to a wide variety of industries including industrial, government, religious, educational, and voluntary organizations, is the author of approximately fifty professional articles and two books: The Abilene Paradox and Other Mediations on Management and How Come Every Time I Get Stabbed in the Back, My Fingerprints Are on the Knife?, and is also featured in several videos focusing on organizational behavior (Wikipedia, 2010). Harvey is known for his for atypical management books. “He intentionally strays from mainstream bottom-line and worker satisfaction obsessions, drawing instead on children’s fables, mythological characters, and Biblical parables to deliver his management messages” (Sonnesyn, 1989, p. 76). According to the Susan Sonnesyn, author of Fly- Flicking Phrogs in the Organizational Pond, readers of Harvey’s work should be prepared to chuckle as Harvey “blends conventional OD wisdom, a knack for exposing organizational oxymorons, and a quirky tongue in check humor” (1989). Critique
The Abilene Paradox begins with a personal narrative story. One hot summer afternoon in Coleman, Texas, the author, was visiting his in-laws with his wife. Although they were comfortable at home, sipping lemonade, playing dominos, Harvey’s father-in-law, suggested the family take a trip that was over fifty miles, one way, in a un-air conditioned 1958 Buick to go for dinner (Understanding the Abilene, 1991). Nearly four hours later, the family returned home, hot, exhausted, and irritated. While sitting in front of the fan in silence, Harvey decided to break the silence and said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it” (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 224)? This statement started an argument within the family about how the horrible trip was, what a bad idea it was and who was to blame for planning the trip. Prior to the excursion the entire family was on board with the idea, even Harvey, although knowing himself; it was not a good idea, agreed with the trip to keep with the status quo of the family. It was from this trip that Harvey coined the phrase, “The Abilene Paradox” (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 225). According to Harvey, the Abilene Paradox occurs when organizations “take actions in contradiction to what they really want to do and therefore defeat the very purposes they are trying to achieve” (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 225). A consequence of the paradox is that “the inability to manage agreement is a major source of organization dysfunction” (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 225). Harvey describes the paradox as having one major symptom and six specific sub-symptoms or characteristics (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 226). The major symptom that defines an organization stuck in the Abilene Paradox is “the inability to manage agreement, not the inability to manage conflict” (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 226). Harvey points to six characteristics common of a group failing to manage agreement effectively or “heading to Abilene.” The first characteristic is members of the group individually but privately agree about their current situation or problem (Natemeyer & McMahon, 2001, p. 226). Using Harvey’s personal experience as an example, the entire family was content with...
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Lister, G. (2006). Has your board ever been to Abilene?. American School Board Journal,
Wikipedia (2010, September, 26). Jerry B. Harvey. Retrieved September, 26, 2010 from Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_B._Harvey
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