Movie Night, Mining and the Abilene Paradox

‘Movie Night, Mining and the Abilene Paradox’, a seemingly unusual title to address a frequent household and workplace problem that can be crippling to organisations and individuals.  

  • “We should watch Home Alone again this Christmas.” I really don’t want to see it again but it is tradition so everyone else will want to…
  •  “We need to increase production by 10% this month.” I won’t say anything because they are management but surely everyone can see that we can’t reduce capital and operating costs whilst increasing production with no strike length…
  • “Let’s take a family trip to Abilene?”…

Figure 1: Abilene Paradox from The Daily Omnivore, 2011

Abilene Paradox

The concept of the Abilene Paradox was developed by Professor Jerry Harvey in 1974 to explain the dysfunction that can be caused by an inability to manage agreement (Harvey, 1974, p. 66). An anecdote is the basis for the name of the paradox, in which Harvey elaborates on an incident that occurs between author, wife and in-laws.

 On an extremely hot afternoon the father-in-law postures a trip to a restaurant in the nearby town of Abilene. The author details his unspoken discontent with the idea but after his wife states that it, “sounds like a great idea”, the author also gives his approval. The author’s mother-in-law doesn’t offer any objections and thus the group takes the 4 hour trip to Abilene.  Through internal dialogue, the author details a horrible experience; however, to be sociable and break the silence upon returning home, the author pronounces, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” This question leads to the realisation that the mother-in-law didn’t enjoy the trip and never wanted to go on the trip, but felt pressured by the other group members to go. The author and wife then highlight their bewilderment, as they also didn’t want to go but didn’t want to, ‘rock the boat’.  Finally, the father-in-law declares that he would have much rather of stayed in town and only offered the idea because he thought everyone was bored. After these revelations, the author questions why, when no one actually wanted to go, they had made a trip to Abilene and basically achieved the opposite of what each individual wanted to do (Harvey, 1974, pp. 63-66).

Harvey follows this anecdote with a more detailed explanation of the paradox, in relation to organisations and how they frequently undertake activities in contradiction to what they are hoping to achieve and therefore nullify the original objectives. (1974, p.66) Essentially highlighting that the inability to manage agreement is a major source of organisation dysfunction.                               

Symptoms

You may be asking how can one spot the Abilene complex running rampant in their organisation? Do you turn up to the same meeting every week, run through the same Agenda, develop no innovative ideas and feel that nothing has been accomplished? Do you often leave this meeting with a monotonous internal dialogue running through your head suggesting that everyone else in your team is insane? Alternatively, the literal studies suggest that the six key symptoms to look out for include (Harvey, 1974, pp. 66-67):

  1. Individuals in the organisation agree privately as to the nature of the situation/problem.
  2. Individuals in the organisation agree privately as to the required steps to cope with the situation/problem.
  3. Individuals fail to communicate their desires/beliefs to one another within the organisation. They convey the opposite desire/belief and lead one another into misperceiving the shared reality.
  4. The misperceived reality causes the organisation to make a shared decision to take actions contradictive to what they are trying to achieve. The results of the actions are therefore counterproductive to the organisation’s objectives.
  5. The counterproductive actions result in frustration, anger, irritation and dissatisfaction in the members of the organisation and confrontational subgroups within the organisation are formed.
  6. Lastly, if the individuals do not deal with this inability to manage agreement, then the cycle repeats itself with greater potency.

Treatment

The treatment actions for the paradox are in relation to the underlying psychological themes that exist in organisations and their internal bureaucracies, including: Action Anxiety, Negative Fantasies, Real Risk, Separation Anxiety, and the Psychological Reversal of Risk and Certainty. Understanding the logic that forms the basis of an intrinsically illogical concept allows coping/treatment mechanisms to be established (Harvey, 1974, p. 70).

As the paradox is caused by group collusion, Harvey established that the key treatment action requires an individual to confront the issue in a group setting (1974, p. 78). Every person deals with confrontation in a different way. A solution to the paradoxical problem after the initial confrontation generally occurs quickly, however, convincing an individual to confront the issue can be time-consuming. If walking into a meeting and giving everyone a piece of your mind doesn’t exactly get you motor going, there is always the option of the ‘Genuine Inquirer’. “Who, what, when, where and how”. The Genuine Inquirer uses authenticity and understanding to empower and guide the team to a group conversation and a deeper awareness of the issues being examined.

Summary

Harvey, Novicevic, Buckley and Halbesleven suggest that it is an especially difficult process to alter an organisation’s culture, however, if the Abilene Paradox is in existence then it must be systematically challenged (2004, p. 221). This issue is having a severe effect on so many facets of our lives and needs to be a topic that individuals are educated about. Organisations can only benefit from employees becoming aware of the symptoms and treatment actions for the paradox. The phrase, ‘herd behaviour’, can be used to describe the Abilene paradox, as individuals make decisions that ignore their own preferences because of unwritten rules and traditions (McAvoy, J. & Butler, T. 2007, p. 556). However, if the herd is unable to manage agreement on the best course of action then organisations and individuals will suffer.

Are you going to watch Home Alone again this year and sit through more meetings with unspecific agendas and unrealistic outcomes? Try something different and ‘agree’ that a new direction is required.

Written by MEC Mining‘s Senior Mining Engineer & Team Leader Luke Rosengren

1.0        REFERENCES

Harvey, J. B. (1974). The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement. Organizational Dynamics, 3(1), 63-80. Retrieved from http://ac.els-cdn.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/0090261674900059/1-s2.0-0090261674900059-main.pdf?_tid=179791cc-19a5-11e7-ad53-00000aacb35d&acdnat=1491358431_5f87ac094a87acf65d72d8c157eb3268

Harvey, M., Novicevic, M., Buckley, R. and Halbesleven, J. (2004).  The Abilene Paradox After Thirty Years: A Global Perspective. Organizational Dynamics, 33(2), 215-226. Retrieved from http://ac.els-cdn.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/S0090261604000178/1-s2.0-S0090261604000178-main.pdf?_tid=5925d8f6-1cd9-11e7-8ad9-00000aab0f01&acdnat=1491710728_c0567c95232759c3f8e16facf3b37095

McAvoy, J. and Butler, T. (2007). The impact of the Abilene Paradox on double-loop learning in an agile team. Information and Software Technology. 49, 552–563. Retrieved from http://ac.els-cdn.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/S0950584907000146/1-s2.0-S0950584907000146-main.pdf?_tid=7df09c94-1cd8-11e7-9e96-00000aacb360&acdnat=1491710361_6c6f2ada20c52dcb03496c4fb3c7a3e0

The Daily Omnivore. (2011). The Abilene Paradox [Image]. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from http://beforeitsnews.com/mediadrop/uploads/2013/39/563d517d1f4a3f54d6f7712a2cfb6959e755e385.jpg

Languages at MEC Mining

As a global mining consultancy, the MEC Mining team encompasses incredible cultural diversity as many of our employees and their families have direct links to over twenty different countries across the globe. As we are based in Australia, with offices in Brisbane and Perth, our common language is English. With such great cultural diversity, many of our consultants are bilingual (to different degrees), with exposure to 23 different languages.

As we work with clients from across the globe, having employees with extra language skills helps us to convey solutions when often there isn’t a direct translation. This means that we can specialise in mine planning, onsite management and technical services solutions for the international mining industry. And of course, it makes for an interesting working environment, with many different cultural perspectives and experiences!

Written by James Cooney, Principal Advisor and Manager of MEC Advisory

Meet Lauren – International Women’s Day 2020

The MEC Mining team are celebrating International Women’s Day by introducing you to some of the wonderful women who make it so great. We sat down with Recruitment Coordinator, Lauren Baldwin and asked her some questions to showcase her view on what it means to be a woman in the mining and resources sector.

Lauren is a Human Resources Professional with significant experience across strategic leadership and recruitment roles and has developed a passion for building relationships and utilising her extensive networks to deliver a collaborative talent acquisition experience for key stakeholders.

  • What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

A day of recognition for incredible women in business, mining and resources.

  • What does this year’s theme ‘Each for Equal’ mean for you?

Equality in each and every role between male and female.

  • How do you overcome challenges in gender equality

I overcome challenges through proven delivery & outcomes communicated confidently.

  • Do you have a role model/icon you look up to empower you when you face challenges in inclusion?

Not specifically, I admire a range of public figures working both in my space and outside of this in other industries. There are so many wonderful women doing incredible things.

  • What’s your pledge to women in 2020 – how are you going to contribute to closing the gender gap?

I pledge to continue to educate on inclusion, diversity and inclusion through conversations during recruitment, across social platforms and surrounding networks.

We look forward to continuing the celebration of incredible women in our organisation here at MEC Mining now and every day.

#WeareMECMining #IWD2020 #EachForEqual

Meet Rebecca – International Women’s Day 2020

The MEC Mining team are celebrating International Women’s Day by introducing you to some of the wonderful women who make it so great. We sat down with Senior Mining Engineer, Rebecca Thomas and asked her some questions to showcase her view on what it means to be a woman in the mining and resources sector.

Rebecca is a senior mining engineer with over 5 years’ experience in open cut coal mining. Rebecca specializes in short and Medium-term Truck and Shovel, Drill and Blast and Dragline Planning, Design and Scheduling.

  • What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

I was lucky enough to attend an all-girls high-school, so International Women’s Day has always had a lot of significance to me. To me, it’s a chance to celebrate those wonderful women around you or who have inspired /helped you to get where you are. It’s also a chance to reflect on your own journey and to recognize we still have a way to go to gender equality.

  • What does this year’s theme ‘Each For Equal’ mean for you?

Human rights are women’s rights. And I’m both. One of my favourite quotes on this subject is “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens” – Michelle Obama. Basically, we’ll never have equality if only half the population is working for it. Feminism is for everybody!

  • How do you overcome challenges in gender equality?

I don’t accept gender inequality in my life. I’ve been lucky so far and I surround myself with a support network that doesn’t see gender as an issue. I think if you approach any situation with the expectation of being equal and don’t accept anything less, you can shift the gender inequality conversation. Instead of you being a “failure” for your gender, you can switch it to a “failure” on the person/group who want to treat you differently. And who wants to be a failure! Maya Angelou said it eloquently: “A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.” 

  • Do you have a role model/icon you look up to empower you when you face challenges in inclusion?

Michelle Obama – what an inspiration!

  • What’s your pledge to women in 2020 – how are you going to contribute to closing the gender gap?

I won’t shy away from uncomfortable and/or tough conversations, especially around money. Know your worth and demand it from those around you.

We look forward to showcasing more incredible MEC Mining women soon – stay posted!

#WeareMECMining #IWD2020 #EachForEqual

Lunch & Learn – March

Join us for our first MEC Mining WA Lunch and Learn session presented by Technical Services Manager, Erin Sweeney on Improving Operational Performance Through Data Management!

Mine sites are collecting increasing amounts of data at a faster and a faster pace on the performance of their operations, if not harnessed properly this can be overwhelming; and many mine sites are not using this data to intelligently inform decisions in their daily operations. We will discuss how to leverage your data, processes and systems to arm your people with the right information to make the best decisions for improved operational performance and throughput.

Date: 10 March

Time: 12 pm – 1 pm

Address: FLUX – 191 St Georges Terrace, Perth WA 6000

Spaces are limited, register for this free event as soon as possible.

Lunch and Learn – February

Join MEC Mining’s Senior Mining Consultant Matthew Turner for our next lunch and learn session in Brisbane. Matthew will discuss the theory of optimising cut off grades over time for open pit metalliferous mines. Touching on the challenges of practical application within the inherent variability of key assumptions.

Date: Wednesday, 26 February
Topic: Cut Off Grade Optimisation for Open Pit Metalliferous Mines 
Venue: Cromwell Business Hub: Level M, 200 Mary Street – Brisbane
Time: 12pm-1pm
Cost: Free
RSVP: Monday, 24 February – emelia.chalker@mecmining.com.au
Spaces are limited, register asap.

MEC awarded Mining Monthly’s Consultant of the Year Award

After an exciting year of innovation and strategic change in 2019, MEC is delighted to be the recipient of Australia’s Mining Monthly (AMM), Consultant of the Year award. The AMM is widely acknowledged as one of the most authoritative mining magazines produced in the Asia Pacific region and a unique source of industry news and information. This award reflects industry recognition of the dynamic work being done by MEC and a boost for the company as we embark on further developments and expansion in the coming year.

The accolade affirms the wisdom of MEC’s decision to make a raft of changes to better serve our client base which, in 2019, grew by 30% with new clients from Australia and international markets such as Russia, Laos and across Africa. The company’s recent expansion into Western Australia is a case in point, improving proximity to our customers and making the consultancy much more accessible and responsive to their demands. In addition, the move means that MEC can diversify geographically and across commodities bringing our expertise to a broader spectrum of clients.

In addition to the physical expansion of the company, the award recognises the positive steps taken by MEC to streamline our management structure to cope with the company’s growth and anticipate future developments. The launch of the MEC Advisory was also a contributing factor in the win. This specialised body, headed by accomplished industry veteran, James Cooney, is designed to assist mining companies with strategic management and evaluation of resources projects and is seen as a highly valuable stand-alone advisory arm within the company’s services.

The final feather in MEC’s cap helping to secure the award was undoubtedly the initiation of the Graduate Training program. With a clear vision of the industry’s future, the program is being developed by MEC to forge mutually beneficial relationships with students and graduates to secure a pipeline of excellent engineers, equipped and ready to move into the field.

Against the well-regarded competition, we at MEC feel honoured by Mining Monthly’s affirmation of our achievements and confident that the award is a precursor of yet another productive year ahead.

The MEC Mining Graduate Program will take you up, up and away!

The MEC Mining Graduate Program provides our Graduate Mining Engineers with a wide range of professional development tools and industry opportunities.  The program also enables graduates to develop a solid foundation and prepare themselves for their journey from Graduate Engineer to emerging professional and beyond.   

Principal of Learning and Development, Loren Ager says that “MEC Mining is committed to developing a pipeline of talented mining engineers, starting with Graduate Mining Engineers”. Loren is proud to showcase a success story from the MEC Mining Graduate Program, Jason Huo, who has been with MEC Mining since 2015 and transitioned from Graduate Mining Engineer to Senior Mining Engineer. 

Jason’s story:

My career as a mining engineer started with MEC one year before I graduated from University in 2015. I was offered the opportunity to help translate documents in Chinese and English. My role quickly changed when I was taught mine design software and started working on some of the simple designs. It wasn’t long before I was using block modelling/pit optimisation on billable projects.  This hands-on, step-by-step process allowed me to kick start my career and ultimately become the go-to-person for pit optimisation!

After two years in the office, MEC provided me with enough mining engineering skills to move on to the next challenge: a site role. For the next three years, I worked at three different sites in various roles. I got the chance to choose which site I want to work at, what area I want to work in, and the roster.

I was happy that I was able to discuss my personal development plan with my team lead and that MEC Mining committed to that plan. MEC Mining provides all the necessary internal and external training I needed to become a successful engineer.”

 Want to see where the MEC Mining Graduate Program can take YOU? Learn more here!

MEC Mining Perth office opening

MEC Mining Perth office opening

MEC Mining officially launched to the WA market on Friday 22nd November with the opening of the Perth office.  Over 80 members of the mining community attended the cocktail party at the Flour Factory hosted by General Manager Operations, Christofer Catania and Technical Service Manager, Erin Sweeney.

Chris welcomed guests and highlighted MEC Mining’s expansion into Western Australia.

“Opening offices in WA allows MEC to better serve the Western Australian and African client base, while diversifying both geographically and across commodities”.

In leading the new branch Erin’s focus will be on ensuring safe and sustainable growth through technical influence, while continuing to meet the national and international demand for MEC Mining’s services.

With over 15 years’ experience as a mining professional , Erin has a background in geotechnical engineering and has worked across a broad range of commodities.  As the former superintendent of Newcrest Mining’s Telfer gold mine, Erin leveraged her skills while working in project management before moving into leadership roles.

The WA mining community was well represented at the event and included attendees from companies such as BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue, South 32, Thiess to name a few.

 

MEC Mining appoints Erin Sweeney to leadership role as it expands into Western Australia

MEC Mining appoints Erin Sweeney to leadership role as it expands into Western Australia

MEC Mining has announced that experienced mining professional Erin Sweeney will lead its new branch in Western Australia.

The appointment comes as MEC Mining expands into the Western Australian market and opens a Perth office.

” Launching MEC WA enables us to better serve our extensive client base in Western Australia, to diversify both geographically and across commodities, and to broaden the service offering to our clients across Australia and Africa,” said MEC’s newly appointed General Manager Operations Christofer Catania.

Ms Sweeney joins MEC with more than 15 years’ mining experience, having worked across a broad range of commodities and technical roles. With a background in geotechnical engineering, she leveraged her skills while working in project management before moving into leadership roles.

Most recently, she was Technical Services Superintendent at Newcrest Mining Limited’s Telfer gold mine, where she led a team of 17 engineers, surveyors, geotechnical engineers and technicians.

“I always look forward to new challenges,” said Ms Sweeney. “I’m pleased to be joining the MEC Mining family and feel confident leading the business’s expansion into Western Australia.”

“Erin is a results-driven professional who is focused on adding value and ensuring safe and sustainable growth through technical influence,” said MEC Non-Executive Director Simon Cohn.  “She’s an ideal person to help lead MEC WA.”