Meetings 411: 2 Models for Understanding Group Dynamics

Business MeetingsIn order to be sure that a meeting is effective and produces desired outcomes, an accurate diagnosis of group dynamics is important. This is the case for planning or logistics meeting during the process of planning events or during the course of client meetings.

Here are 2 models to help you diagnose what is taking place in terms of group dynamics and engage in course correction to keep meetings on track.

Abilene Paradox

What is it? The Abilene Paradox represents unspoken agreement. A course of action is suggested. Although group members don't think it's a good idea, no one expresses it. The group proceeds without buy-in and the results are sub-par.

Who invented it? Jerry B. Harvey developed The Abilene Paradox based on an experience his family had in Coleman, Texas.

It was hot and the family was relaxing, playing dominoes and enjoying cool glasses of lemonade. Someone suggested that the family drive 50 miles away to Abilene. They had a horrible time driving on a dusty road in a car that was not air conditioned. When they returned, it turned out that no one had wanted to take the trip. Family members had just gone along with the idea assuming everyone else was in favor.

When does this happen in meetings? Groups sometimes fall into the Abilene Paradox when they are attempting to make a decision or generate ideas. No one wants to "rock the boat" and generate conflict by expressing concerns so the fact that everyone or almost everyone opposes the idea never surfaces.

How to fix it? Slow down the decision making process. Give the group some quiet thinking time to identify pros and cons or do a force field analysis to determine obstacles and supports. Even 5 or 10 minutes can be enough time to uncover the fact that the group does not support the proposed course of action. If a group is quick to discard ideas presented by some group members, work through a group exercise to uncover all the reasons the ideas will work.

The Pygmalion Effect/The Golem Effect

What is it? The self-fulfilling prophecy is the dynamic behind both the Pygmalion Effect and the Golem. Team members and even entire work units perform better if they are respected and much is expected of them.

Who invented it? In the California school system during the 1960s, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted a ground breaking study. At the beginning of the term, teachers were told that some children were particularly bright. They outperformed their classmates. The teachers were later told that there had been a mistake and identified other students as "high potential" again the performance improved based on expectations. Golem effect comes from the 1977 article "Pygmalion Effect in Reverse" published in the Journal of Special Education.

When does this happen in meetings? In meetings, higher value is placed on the contributions of some attendees than others. The input of some team members may be at risk of being ignored or under valued due to demographics (e.g. younger workers, new employees, visible minorities, and women in predominantly male work groups).

How to fix it? Recognize when it is happening. Hit the pause button. Follow these tips for ensuring balanced participation. Give more air time to individuals who are getting cut off or whose input is being ignored. Analyze one of their suggestions that has merit, step-by-step with the whole group.

For more tips to manage group dynamics also read  Managing 6 Challenging Meeting Scenarios 12 Tips to Get Your Meeting Back on Track and Meetings 411: 10 Tips for Getting Beyond Groupthink

Photo Credit: Baltic Development Forum

blog comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter
Receive updates on the latest trends, best practices, and strategies
to transform your meetings and events