One of the more famous illustrations of the perils of group behavior is the Abilene Paradox. I wrote about the issue some years back but in short, its a story management expert Jerry Harvey told about how he and his in-laws all took a trip to Abilene that none of them wanted to take because none of them wanted to speak their mind.
As I wrote:
There is an article by Harvey that illustrates how the paradox can manifest itself in various situations and also contains suggestions on how to avoid taking a trip to Abilene. In what might appear to be the most extreme case, he suggests that the instigator of the misguided trip may need to step forward and declare their misgivings about their own project in order to break the fear which keeps the cycle of reinforcement intact.
“… we frequently fail to take action in an organizational setting because we fear that the actions we take may result in our separation from others, or, in the language of Mr. Porter, we are afraid of being tabbed as “disloyal” or are afraid of being ostracized as “non-team players.”
This is why I felt arts organizations might be especially vulnerable to trips to Abilene. Members aren’t simply employees/volunteers/board members but assumed to be true believers in the cause. There could be a fear, real or imagined that disagreement with the group equates to lack of commitment to the greater ideals rather than merely disloyalty to the company.
If you see yourself or your organization as particularly susceptible to making metaphoric trips to Abliene, you may want to resolve to resist doing so in the new year.