Reference no: EM132280047
Surrender by Any Other Name Over the last quarter century, several behavioral scientists have focused on the tendency of individuals in groups to either withdraw from actively participating or limit their contributions to the group’s decision-making efforts. This tendency has been variously referred to as the “Abilene Paradox,” “self-censorship,” socia1 loafing,” and “free-riding.”5 The Abilene Paradox suggests that team members often find themselves pursuing a course of action that is in contradiction to what they really want to do. However, they fail to communicate their beliefs and just go along with the group. Similarly, self-censorship suggests that individuals in cohesive groups tend to ignore realistic appraisals of alternatives, and, rather than “rock the boat,” stop making efforts to think critically. In a similar vein, social loafers and free riders tend to contribute less to the team’s efforts. What all of these popular concepts are addressing is a general tendency for individuals in a group to engage in some form of self-limiting behavior, sometimes under fear of reprisal, as Roger Boisjoly did, or under no fear of reprisal at all, as Jack did. While not all of 3 these types of behavior are true acts of surrender, they are at the very least a surrendering of the human spirit. The manifestations of self-limiting behavior can take many forms. The managers we interviewed suggested such behaviors as sulking, daydreaming, doodling, mentally attending to other tasks, refraining from expressing one’s views or judgments, going silent, exerting less energy than one has, behaving non-responsively or passively, and so forth. Our use of the term “sell-limiting” highlights the fact that such behavior is a deliberate choice on the part of the individual. Although self-limiting behavior on the part of one team member does not necessarily equate to a disastrous decision, if all team members are so inclined, the likelihood of a poor decision dramatically increases. When a team member sell-limits, that individual is no longer fully participating in the task of ensuring that group activities are producing the desired results. In effect, the individual has ceased to fully exercise effective influence over events, and has effectively surrendered to other team members. Boisjoly’s decision to succumb to group pressure and give up—”…. So I, too, stopped pressing my case”—during the Challenger launch decision provides an example of the detrimental impact of this behavior. And, as the Challenger incident demonstrates, such behavior often results in decisions contrary to what the team members actually believe should be made, sometimes with tragic consequences. Unfortunately, while most managers would prefer that all team members fully contribute to the team’s decision, they are also faced with the need and responsibility to keep disruptive team members from sidetracking the decision process. Consider for a moment how Roger Boisjoly’s boss might have viewed Roger’s behavior if you had a subordinate who “angrily admonished” you, how might you have perceived that behavior? Even through Boisjoly was proven correct and his warnings should have been heeded, we suspect that most managers, at some point, would have seen him as disruptive to the process. Ultimately. Boisjoly succumbed to group pressure and eventually was amputated by a management vote. Ironically in this case, the most telling self-limiting behavior seems to have occurred within the management team which silenced Boisjoly’s objections when, “During the closed manager’s discussion, Jerry Mason (the General Manager) asked the other managers in a low voice if he was the only one who wanted to fly and no one answered him [italics ours].”6 Why Team Members Give Up Even though managers identified many causes for their self-limiting behavior in teams, we found there were six that were most frequently cited.1 1. The presence of someone with expertise. When team members perceive that another member of the team has expertise or is highly qualified to make a decision, they will self-limit. Members’ perceptions of other teammates’ competence play a major role here, especially since these assessments are formed quickly, and often before a team meets for the first time. New employees or team members may be particularly at risk, since they may perceive that all other individuals on the team hold more expertise simply by virtue of their tenure with either the organization or the team. However, team members may determine that another teammate possesses more expertise, and thus decide that their input is not needed or, worse yet that attempting to input could make them look foolish and uninformed. 4 2. The presentation of a compelling argument. Similarly, team members may be inclined to self-limit when a teammate makes a compelling argument. Several managers told us that, if the argument presented was persuasive and similar to their own, they would be inclined to “rest their own case.” Managers reported that frequently the timing of a compelling argument influenced their decision to self-limit—especially if it was made after a lot of fruitless discussion. As one manager noted, “We’d been having a long and absolutely useless discussion, and we were all getting frustrated at getting nowhere. Finally, someone came up with an idea that seemed reasonable, and I was more than happy to agree to it.” 3. Lacking confidence in one’s ability to contribute. If team members feel unsure about their ability to meaningfully contribute to the decision, they will be inclined to self-limit. Managers often pointed out that in important, high profile decisions, if they weren’t extremely confident about their perspective, they just “kept quiet.” Beyond the element of personal risk, often the complexity of the decision influences the confidence level of team members. If, for example, the decision appears to be complicated, insurmountable, or if it is ill defined or ambiguous, individual team members may simply feel overwhelmed by the challenge it represents. 4. An unimportant or meaningless decision. Frequently, managers told us that they were inclined to mentally withdraw or just “loaf” when they believed the decision would have no impact on their unit. In addition, if they saw no direct relationship between their work on the team and the outcome of the team’s activities, they limited their efforts. Unless a decision was seen as vital or important to the individual’s well being, there was a powerful tendency to adopt a “who cares” attitude. Clearly, this attitude was encouraged when the contributions made by individuals were unrecognized.8 One manager reported that when she realized that only the team leader was likely to get any recognition for the team efforts, she “felt a sense of real frustration; the whole group was putting in minimal effort because there was no payback for us. 5. Pressure from others to conform to the team’s decision. Irrespective of management level, managers reported being influenced by pressures exerted on them by the rest of the team. Roger Boisjoly poignantly reported, first hand, the incredible pressures to conform exerted by the management team. Whether it’s out of a fear of retaliation, a sense that pressing one’s case will weaken established friendships, or just the real human fear of being shunned by a group, the fact is that most individuals under such pressure cave in. As one manager said, “I know my place, and I know when I’ve crossed the line. I have to have a real good reason to take on my team.” 6. A dysfunctional decision-making climate. Team members found it disconcerting, and a cue to self-limit, when they believed that other team members were frustrated, indifferent, disorganized and/or generally unwilling to commit themselves to making an effective decision. When a team flounders aimlessly for a long time, many members simply give up. Surprisingly, such a climate can be easily created, especially in the early stages of a decision, by inadvertent remarks such as “this is a ridiculous task,” “nothing’s going to change, why bother?” or “management won’t listen to us anyway.”
1. Briefly describe what the "Abilene Paradox" is and what, if any, experience have you had with it, wither in school or in the work environment?
2. The article lists 6 reasons why team members give up. While all are valid reasons, select the 2 you personally feel are most important and describe why you feel this way.
3. What can managers do to overcome the "business as usual" mentality in order to inspire and motivate teams?