When team members withhold their truth, it’s like everyone piles into a car and agrees to go where no one wants to go.
In 1974, Jerry Harvey, professor of management sciences at George Washington University, presented a common communication breakdown he titled “Abilene Paradox.” In the hypothetical scenario Harvey shows how easy it is for a group of people to discuss, agree and implement a plan when everyone involved is opposed to the idea.
The tale is about a family who decides to travel to the west Texas town of Abilene, Texas to eat at the cafeteria. The day is hot like a furnace. The car has no air conditioning. The road is bumpy and dusty. And the meal is less than satisfying.
When the family returns each person declares their real truth: No one wanted to go to Abilene in the first place.
The four words that get many teams into trouble are: Agree, disagree, right and wrong. Handled ineffectively, these four words divide teams and encourage teammates who wish to avoid conflict to keep their mouths shut.
Mature teams can use those four words when evaluating the ideas of peers. Relational trust, built over years of experience together, allow team members to tell their truth faster.
Teams today, however, rarely have the time to build trust among team members. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a culture of candor. As we’ve supported organizations collapse the time required to rapidly align collaborative teams, one of the keys has been replacing the four words that get teams in trouble with these four: Perspective, thought, opinion and idea.
The fact is your truth is only a thought. Your thought only becomes powerful, however, when it collides and integrates with the perspectives others hold.
Your team is on a road to somewhere. Candor is required if you are going to get where you need to go – without detours to Abilene.
What is your opinion? (Say it.)