THE ABILENE PARADOX
Have you ever been in a situation where someone suggests doing something—let’s go to a dance club. It is a work night for you. You agree to go, along with several others in the group. The dance club is miserable. It is hot, crowded, and no one interesting to talk to because music is so loud. Can’t dance, too crowded.
Leaving the club you learn that most of the group did not want to go and are upset because of going. No one wanted to disappoint the others. Many nonprofit boards and volunteer committees run into this problem. It is the philosophy –go along to get along.
The inability to manage agreement, not the inability to manage conflict, is a symptom that means a board or committee is experiencing the Abilene Paradox. The Abilene Paradox is when a nonprofit program acts in contradiction to information they have for dealing with problems and this makes the problem worse. An Abilene Paradox deals with absurdity.
Imagine you and friends standing on a street corner talking outside the dance club.
“But, you said you wanted to go dancing.”
“Yes, but I only said that because you said you wanted to go to the club.”
“And I only agreed to go because I thought the two of you wanted to go to the club, I really need some sleep.”
Taking action that is antithetical to information provided is absurd because it frequently makes the situation or problem untenable. The board is trying to solve a problem and it got worse. Likely it defeats the purposes the organization is trying to achieve.
The Abilene Paradox is described, defined, and discussed in this article by Jerry Harvey. Learn how to avoid the Abilene Paradox.
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