Senior leadership issues a clarion call for new ideas. “We need to generate more revenue!” Or more likely, “Our costs are too high and we want your input on how to cut our expenses!” But this is not just any request to submit some ideas into a suggestion box or idea database. Instead, there is a sense of urgency and perhaps even an expectation that every person contributes. Groups across the organization are assembled for brainstorming sessions. Perhaps edicts are issued. “No one can leave the room unless they submit at least 5 ideas.”
What’s the outcome of these sessions? Often it is disappointing. Sure, the quantity of ideas is impressive. But what about the quality? The same recycled ideas are offered, with nothing offered outside existing paradigms. Continue Reading
It’s a sad truth about the workplace: Just 30% of employees are actively committed to doing a good job.
According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report, 50% of employees merely put their time in, while the remaining 20% act out their discontent in counterproductive ways. These employees are negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service. Gallup estimates that the 20% group alone costs the U.S. economy around half a trillion dollars each year.
What’s the reason for the widespread employee disengagement? According to Gallup, poor leadership is a key cause.
Richard Sheridan, Founder of Menlo Innovations, describes an antidote for this lack of enthusiasm. He claims that “joy” is what is missing from the workplace. In a recent interview, Sheridan spoke about some of the ways that he purposely designed joy into the way that people work.
Perhaps you have found yourself in this situation.
Your team has been diligent in using a structured process to solve a vexing problem. Most everyone seems to be engaged. Quite a few ideas have been generated. The team has used a criteria matrix or other sorting tool to narrow the choices to the best solution. It seems clear what action is next. The group needs to decide how to implement the improvement.
There is an uneasiness in the air. You can sense it.
You can see it in the way that Jennifer is tilting her head as the team’s proposal is summarized.
Matt prefaces his comment with, “I guess I’m OK with this solution, since everyone else seems to be.”
Susan wonders aloud if the crew will accept this new process design.
Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like all the team members are confident in the solution. You find yourself wondering, “Didn’t we stack hands on this solution already? Why didn’t I hear about these concerns earlier? What did I miss?”
At a time like this, it might be helpful to put on a hat. Or better yet, six hats.
“Let’s reach a consensus on what we should do next.”
All of us have heard this phrase – or something similar – from a group or team leader. And what’s not to like about this approach? After all, collaboration and cooperation are essential for a team to be effective. Unfortunately, there are times when a group can have an apparent consensus view and later regret the outcome of their collective decision. In 1974, Dr. Jerry Harvey, a professor of management science at George Washington University, introduced the term Abilene Paradox to explain this group behavior.
The Abilene Paradox involves a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistakenly believes that their own preferences are counter to the group’s. As a result, no objections are raised. Some common phrases linked to the Abilene Paradox are to not “rock the boat” or to “go along to get along.”
This phenomenon is explained by theories of social conformity and influence, which suggest people are often very averse to acting contrary to the trend of a group. According to Harvey, the phenomenon may occur when people experience action-anxiety. People are concerned that the group could express negative attitudes towards them if they do not go along.
The name of this group behavior is derived from an incident that Harvey recounts in his article published in Organizational Dynamics. A summary of the story is given below.