Business Bites: The impact of poor management Part 2

Nick Walsh FBDO
ABDO sector skills development officer

For those of you who may have studied a particular dystopian novel at school, or have chosen to read it for pleasure, you may recall the phrase ‘doublethink’. It was in George Orwell’s novel 1984 that this concept was written.

So what is doublethink? A simple way to explain ‘doublethink’, is to think of an individual who can believe that two contradictory facts at the same time. Surely in our modern business world such a thing can’t exist? Enter the Abilene Paradox.

The Abilene Paradox

The Abilene Paradox describes a situation where a collective of individuals can end up making a decision that goes against their individual beliefs. Why on earth would they do that?

The Abilene Paradox was introduced by Jerry B. Harvey in an article published in 1974 on the subject. He believes it occurs when individuals don’t wish to cause an issue – or ‘rock the boat’. They want to conform socially. His view is that individuals believe they will experience negative attitudes if they speak up on a topic.

And when no-one speaks up? Decisions that go against the feelings of the group are made.

In her 2019 article, ‘3 ways to avoid the Abilene Paradox‘, Abi Walker describes three ways to avoid the negative impact of the Abilene Paradox:

1. Create a safe environment

“If someone appears as an outsider, the ability to empathise and try to understand that person drops. Relatedness is closely linked to trust, which is critical for close collaboration and the sharing of information. Therefore, the first way to avoid the Abilene Paradox is for leaders to create an environment where people feel ‘safe’ to voice a divergent opinion. If we have been shouted down, ignored, or made to feel naïve in the past, we may not risk speaking out again.”

2. Expect teams to disagree

“If teams are built to provide a range of skills and to review issues from a variety of perspectives, it should be expected that they ‘disagree’. This is the value of a team. If it’s clear who will review the evidence and make the final decision, then disagreement should only enrich and validate the final outcome. Both sides of an argument need to be explored before one can be confidently supported.”

3. Actively listen to feedback

“When leaders demonstrate that they are listening to differing views, team members will feel valued and are more likely to have the confidence to contribute fully. Leaders should be prepared to take the time to communicate the reasons behind decisions. This can defuse potential areas of conflict before they are driven ‘underground’. If we can see conflict, we can help to resolve or manage it.

“Leaders need to become more aware of the power of group dynamics and the effects that it has on the individuals in an organisation. If they can find a way to allow true dialogue in their organisation that encourages a spirit of inquiry in their teams and groups, this would allow differences of opinion to emerge, with a wider understanding of an issue from a variety of perspectives.” 

Tools to measure management skill

As growing leaders and managers, time and effort should be taken to get feedback on your individual performance. There are many routes to do this, but one of the most used and recognised is 360˚ feedback.

In this process, you choose (or may have chosen for you) a group of individuals with whom you interact at work on a fairly regular basis. This would usually include your line manager, your direct reports and your peers.

A 2020 CIPD article on performance reviews also offers these words of warning and tips:

“For it to be effective, employees must feel confident that 360 degree feedback is trustworthy and fair. This is a risk as the process can lend itself to being ‘gamed’ – for example, reviewers’ ratings may be biased because they have an interest in showing the employee in a good light, or alternatively have an axe to grind.

“Some things that help are:

  • Briefing employees and reviewers clearly on the aims and objectives, what the feedback will be used for and how it should be given.
  • Explaining the process, including how reviewers are selected, how feedback is collated and how it will be presented.
  • Giving employees the opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns.
  • Maintaining confidentiality, not attributing feedback to an individual without their permission.
  • Offering support to employees so that they can act on the feedback.”

An alternative to 360˚ feedback may be Insights, however, this tends to work better in larger companies.

Self-development never hurts

‘Accidental manager’ is a term often applied to those who find themselves in a management or leadership role based on length of service, professional qualifications or other non-management grounds. They will struggle through in most instances, but this is not fair for them or their teams. There are 2.4 million ‘accidental managers’ not delivering to full capability currently, who need training and development support.

Organisations with effective management and leadership development programmes have on average 23 per cent better results, and are 32 per cent more productive. In addition, 83 per cent of chartered managers say they are more productive as a consequence of their training and development. The CMI calculates their average added value to an organisation is £391,443.

Read ‘The impact of poor management Part 1’ here.