Three Simple, Brilliant Mental Models for Better Collaboration
To avoid pitfalls in group decision-making and problem-solving
Hey dear readers — thank you to the many of you who responded to me after my last post on Belonging. Keep the responses coming. I’m marinating them and looping some of them in to the next installment in the Belonging series which will publish next week. Meantime….
Consider these mental models before you hit send on your next email. Consider them before your next strategy meeting or board meeting. Heck, consider them before any type of professional or personal communication or collaboration. These are all-purpose tools for your toolbox.
The Abilene Paradox
The Abilene Paradox is a common phenomenon where a group collectively agrees on a course of action that goes against the preferences or beliefs of each individual in the group.
A sort of step-child of “groupthink”, the Abilene Paradox happens in a low-energy collaboration because individuals don't want to express their true feelings or ideas and instead go along with the group to avoid conflict or maintain harmony. As a result, the group ends up making a suboptimal decision that no one actually wanted.
Where the Abilene Paradox differs from groupthink is that the latter is most often characterized by a high-energy space driving the collective inauthentically to cohesiveness.
Five Strategies to Combat the Abilene Paradox:
encourage and model open and honest communication among group members
insure leaders or facilitators L.A.V.A. (listen, acknowledge, validate, actively)
establish clear goals and objectives and keep those as flags in the ground
be willing to revisit decisions
default to being open to alternatives that contradict group decisions
Parkinson’s Law is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."
The amount of time allotted to any task determines how long the task takes. For example, editing this piece could take 20 minutes, but if I’ve allotted an hour for it, bet on the editing take that full hour. The same goes for the quality and timing of collaboration. Deadlines, meetings, communication, along with Brainstorming, Idea Forming: any type of collaboration practice can benefit from having some clear, shortened deadlines to produce some distilled quality results, whereas the drag out can be deleterious.
Any time there’s a project, task, meeting, or communication, default to a clear and present end-time.
Coined by philosopher G.K. Chesterton, this concept is a prime example of “second-order thinking.” It’s critical for the rebels and pioneers among us who, let’s face it, might burn something down because it, at first, doesn’t appear useful.
The concept goes like this: take a longer term collaboration, where your forebears have erected some policy, practice, code of conduct, whatever, and the next-gen comes along, sees limited use, and takes it down to build a new, more context-appropriate ‘thing.’
The idea is that before you attempt to change or remove something (i.e., “the fence), you should first understand why it exists in the first place. This can include understanding the history, the stakeholders involved, the intended goals, and any unforeseen consequences or unintended benefits that may have emerged over time.
Key Strategy to Avoid this Pitfall: Before a significant change is undertaken, use the “Five Why’s” to determine why the thing to be changed was set up in the first place. This will help drill down to some non-obvious deeper cues about the item in question.