Virtual team building: 5 activities to get you started

COVID-19 has profoundly affected the lives of many worldwide and has resulted in many organisations implementing shifts to ensure business continuity. Whilst we endure through these challenging times, it is vital to ensure your team are continuing to connect.

But how can we connect as a team when we are not seeing each other? What does this mean for team building? 

The MEC Mining team see this as just another pivot we need to make. A global pandemic has changed many things, and this includes how to approach traditional team building to now using virtual methods. Although it is not the same catching up with your colleagues in person, there are so many ways around this. Here are our top five ideas to stay connected. 

  1. Virtual Dinner

This one is simple, yet effective! You can make this a truly fun time by giving your team a theme for cooking such as ‘Meals without a staple because they’re all sold out’ or a cuisine such as Thai or Italian inspired food.

This can make plenty of conversation starters for the entire team and allows you to connect through a video call and no speaking of actual work is needed.

  • Playlist collaborations

Everyone listens to music, so maybe it is time to get your team to make a playlist for everyone to listen to a day at a time! This way, your music library will be kept interesting with a variety of musical genres allowing for more conversation between your team. 

Perhaps your week could sound something like this: 

  1. Monday: Feel-good pop
  2. Tuesday: Your favourite podcasts – have different category each week
  3. Wednesday: Smooth Jazz
  4. Thursday: Throwback Thursday – do the top hits of a new decade each week
  5. Friday: RNB Fridays
  • Group chats

Now’s a better time than ever to have a team group chat – maybe one separate to speaking specifically about work.

Have one where you can virtually share your days, photos of your pets, a funny picture you have come across on your social media – it’s a good chance to laugh and bond as a team without the added stress or anxiety of speaking about work in the same conversation.

  • Entertainment recommendation club

Similar to a traditional book club, however, all forms of entertainment are welcome! Set a book, movie, or television series episode as the entertainment pick of the week. Have you all seen Tiger King?! Set a virtual meeting at the end of each week to discuss it.

Having one team member per week choosing the entertainment piece allows for a new experience for everyone or one person to share their all-time favourites.

  • Exercise classes

Finding the motivation to exercise is a little trickier now that our options have become increasingly limited. Get your co-workers together on a video call, choose an online workout and do it together!

You will be surprised how much more productive and harder you might work while exercising when people are doing it with you. It is a great and healthy way to bond and it also gives the team a new way to support each other.

While COVID-19 has forced many of us to adjust to a new way of socialising and working, technology has given us the benefit of still staying close while social distancing. Give these activities a go and your team will certainly notice the difference!


We hear you. It can be so hard to feel connected to your loved ones when you’re hours apart and missing out on events, catch-ups and quality time with them. 

Luckily, keeping in contact while you are on a roster, has never been easier than in this day and age! 

Here are six platforms to use to stay up to date and in contact with your loved ones. 

1. Skype/Facetime/Facebook Video 

This is the closest thing to face-to-face contact. Perfect for live family chats to communicate all at the same times. It’s free and simple to keep in touch – all you need is a Wi-Fi connection. 

2. WhatsApp 

The perfect app for group chats. Send messages, images, gifs, voice recordings, etc;  all at your leisure. 

3. Videos and Voice Recordings 

No need for special apps to nail this one – but you can sing happy birthday into the phone and send it to your loved one on their birthday, just as an example. 

4. Family Organiser Apps 

Get “Cozi” to keep you in the loop with what’s happening in people’s day-to-day life at home. This way you’ll never be out of the loop when it comes to appointments, playdates, and everything in-between. 

5. Podcasts/Movies 

Organise to both watch or listen to a podcast/movie at the same time as each other – then talk about it over the phone later. 

6. Online/App games 

There are so many live games to play with others. Grab a mate and load up your console. 

Career pivots: how to make it happen

“Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor, but success comes where preparation and opportunity meet”

This excerpt is by MEC Mining’s Technical Services Manager, Erin Sweeney: A results-focused and experienced mining professional who has worked across a broad range of commodities including gold, base metals, iron ore and coal operations. Her background lies in geotechnical engineering, designing, modelling and implementing cost-effective, innovative mine solutions in both site-based and in consultative roles. Erin has leveraged these skills into project management and then leadership roles with a focus on adding value, ensuring safe sustainable cash flow and growth through technical influence.

“Growing up in Wagga Wagga NSW, I was never pre-exposed to the idea of a career in mining. When I found myself on my first mine site in Queensland’s coal basin as a graduate exploration geologist sitting on a drill rig logging core while being entertained by drillers antics, I surprised almost everyone who knows me – including myself. 

When I graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science,  which I originally intended to use to pursue a government department role, I found myself graduating into a mining boom, where I was quickly given an exciting offer to head to an Anglo American site near Middlemount to be a Graduate Exploration Geologist with a consulting company. From an Exploration Geologist to Geotechnical Engineer, to Mine Planning and Technical Services management and now managing the growth of MEC Mining WA, I have had my fair share of career pivots. Some were easy due to the demand in the market but there were a few where I really had to work hard to make it happen.

Here are a few things I have learnt along the way that stack the cards in your favour:

  • Is the position you want inside your organisation already?

It is far easier to pivot inside your organisation than to leave it and find that new role. Being a known quantity is everything and organisations are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the devil they know. However, you still may need to undertake additional study to seal the deal.

  • Get your elevator pitch ready

It is important to share your ambition. Tell everyone that you know where you are going consistently and frequently. The more people you tell the more the opportunities for pivot enabling work will come your way. But be patient, it takes time for this seed planting to show green shoots.

  • Find a great mentor

Find a sponsor higher up in the organisation – higher than your immediate manager. Decisions about who fills roles and what opportunities are available get made behind closed doors every day. If you have an advocate in the room who isn’t biased by their own need for you to be in your current role then you have a good chance of winning the opportunity.

  • Be open to taking baby steps

Look for a sidestep role if a promotion is too much of a leap, you don’t necessarily have to move backwards to establish a new career in a different area. There are many transferable skills that you can apply to a new role; you can learn a lot by taking a sidestep if you are willing to throw yourself into a steep learning curve.

  • Be open to pushing yourself.

When you pivot you aren’t going to be on the same page as your peers, so you need to make more time to listen and learn. Fail fast, maintain resilience and be open to feedback. All feedback you receive is filtered through a modicum of bias affecting the giver, but you must still develop a good filter to find the grain of truth and a potential lesson.

Career pivots are becoming a new normal and the Australian mining industry is now more flexible than ever before on this issue. Diversity of thought is the number one asset you bring to a new tack. Take some time to map out your new journey so you can fully understand what gaps and overlaps you have and stay determined.”

Being a resilient leader in the wake of COVID-19

Written by MEC Mining’s Technical Services Manager, Erin Sweeney

The human brain is an amazing thing, it is the central control of our bodies keeping us alive. It stores our memories and uses them helps us navigate and assign meaning to the complex world of interacting with other humans, things and events by linking emotions to the myriad of data coming in from our sensors all in an effort to keep us safe and alive. If we leave this process on auto-control our lives can quickly get overwhelming when we face times that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

As leaders there is an expectation that you map out the way forward for your team, never is this more important than when the road gets rough. In order to be able to do this, you must first find a way to hack your brain’s natural responses and get it working for you so you can get on with leading your team out of the rough.

When an event happens, we are all triggered with an initial emotional hijack. Your internal programming recognises a threat and you subconsciously go into flight, fight or flail mode. From here your programming moves to appraisal mode as you work out why this happened, what it means and what you must do.  The first step in resilient leadership is making sure when this happens you take control of the process as soon as possible.

Why did this happen?

When we immediately attribute blame, be it internal or external, we are not helping ourselves find the opportunity. Instead during this time, it is most useful to understand the humanness of ourselves. Failure is rarely fatal, and it helps us to understand that the locus of control we have over our lives sits only within ourselves and rarely with external events. The ability to review the event with a compassionate lens will de-escalate the emotional triggers and move you quickly to the next phase. If you get really stuck here, you can pattern break the spiralling thought process controlled by the amygdala with something that requires immediate mental focus like counting backwards from 1000 in 7’s.

What does it mean?

When we attribute meaning to something we are trying to work out if what we are dealing with is a threat or a challenge. In its simplest form, a threat is something we evaluate as not having the resources to meet the demand required to overcome the event. A challenge is where we believe we have what it takes to get through this. Resilience is choosing to see the event as a challenge. It requires you to view the event response as finding a way to balance the resources with demands.

What do I have to do?

This is where the rubber meets the road and resilient leadership really shows up. It will likely require you to break the demands down into smaller and smaller tasks until they meet the size of your resources. This might look like a grocery list of things that need to be done over time. Or it could be working out what is in your immediate field of influence. What information do you have that you can use to make at least one decision? When things are changing all the time focusing on what you do know, and what you can do, will inform what the next right thing is. Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.

The take-home message in all this is we have a choice in how we view the world and the lens we apply to the events in our lives. It is important to be aware of your natural programming so you can over-ride the emotional hijack and step up to the plate with confidence. We are imperfect human beings so cut yourself some slack if you don’t get it right. This programming control is easier if it practised every day. So, don’t write off that meditation or mindfulness session, it is grooming you for big things.

Five Top Tips for Choosing the Right Role: Career Opportunities for Graduate Mining Engineers

Written by Loren Ager, MEC Mining – Principal of Learning & Development

Graduating from university is an exciting but nerve-wracking time.  Mining industry graduate programs are highly competitive, offer diverse career development opportunities and are often highly paid.  Being organised early and planning for the right job choice can help with the transition from university student to graduate mining engineer. 

Here are five top tips for starting your career in the mining industry and choosing the right job:

Research, research, research

Research as many graduate programs as possible and determine what is important for you.  Is it a commodity, location, money, development opportunities or a combination of these and more?  Many mining companies have standardised graduate programs, generally, between 18 to 24 months, which offer rotational work in different commodities or regions.  For larger companies, the term of the graduate program is fixed-term only allowing you to apply for internal roles in the last six months of the program.  Some smaller more specialised companies can offer fast-tracking opportunities based on your prior experience or rate of development.  Rosters may include fly-in-fly-out or regional residential placements, which are often determined by the location of the mine.  Flights may or may not be included in your contract.  While you are on roster accommodation is generally in mine camps, however, if it is a residential role then shared-living arrangements are often common for graduates.  It is important to understand where you will be based, what your accommodation options are and if you are required to pay for alternative accommodation on your days off. 

Important questions to consider:

  • How long is the graduate program?
  • Can I fast track the graduate program?
  • When can I apply for internal roles after the graduate program?
  • Where will I be based?
  • Is the role residential or FIFO?
  • Is my accommodation included in my contract or will I need to pay for alternative accommodation on my days off?
  • Are flights included in my contract or will this be an additional cost?

Company values and workplace culture

Most companies display their corporate values online or in promotional material.  These values are often stretch-goals for the company, however, implementation in the workplace sometimes falls short, especially during challenging times.  It is important to make sure your personal values align both with the company values and the workplace culture.  Networking, making contacts in the industry and reaching to graduates who work on-site will help you get a better idea if companies demonstrate their values in the workplace.  Companies also use social media to promote positive workplace culture by celebrating team and individual successes.  Ensure that you have a social media presence and following the companies you are interested in working for.  That way you can develop a better understanding of their company values and how they demonstrate them.

Important questions to consider:

  • Do your personal values align with the company values?
  • Do you know anyone in the company and do they demonstrate the company values?
  • Have you heard positive comments made about the workplace culture?
  • Does the company celebrate individual and team successes?
  • Is the workplace inclusive and diverse?
  • Does the company hold any social or team-building events?

Training and development opportunities

Your career path will progress faster if you are given training and development opportunities.  While researching companies and discussing potential roles with company representatives, ask about career progression plans and training opportunities within their graduate programs.   On-site learning will often be the main method used to develop graduates, but this should also be supplemented with technical and soft skill training to help you develop a professional portfolio of skills.  Additional external training should also be considered if you are thinking about specialising in focused areas of engineering such as drill and blast or dragline engineering.  Most companies offer graduate modules which allow graduates to get together, discuss topical issues/challenges and learn from each other.  Companies should also offer opportunities to interact and learn from engineers and senior engineers.  These opportunities will help you understand the challenges experienced at different levels throughout the company. 

Important questions to consider:

  • Does the graduate program offer technical development other than learning on the job?
  • Are soft skills a focus for the graduate program?
  • Are there opportunities to interact with and learn from other graduates?
  • Are there opportunities to interact with and learn from engineers and senior engineers?
  • Are networking opportunities offered in the graduate program?
  • Are graduates provided with a career progression or development plan?

Understand the application process and prepare for interviews

The application and interview process is your chance to demonstrate your abilities and justify why you should be considered for a graduate role.  Preparing for the application and interview process will help you reduce nerves, feel confident and perform better on the day.  The application process can sometimes involve an initial application online, which requires a current resume and cover letter, and aptitude, personality or skills test.  Ensure your resume is up to date and relevant for the applicable role, uses professional language, is formatted so that it is in chronological order and easy to read.  Preparing for aptitude, personality and skills testing can be done online through multiple providers.  Ask the company representative which provider they use so that you can complete practice questions before taking the tests.  Also, understand how long the testing will take and make sure you are completing them in an environment without distractions or interruptions.  If you are successful with your application, you will progress through to the interview stage.  Interviews may be given via the phone, video conference or face-to-face.  Go online and research interview questions and prepare answers.  It is also good to know who will be interviewing you so that you can prepare the right kind of answers.  Human relations representatives will tend to ask performance and communication-related questions, whereas Technical Services representatives will ask more technical, mining-related questions.  All interviews are different, but you should generally have answers relating to working in teams, communication methods, leadership examples, challenging situations and safety. 

Important questions to consider:

  • Are you required to take an aptitude, personality or skills test?
  • How long does the application process take?
  • Are your resume and cover letter up to date?
  • Do you know who will be interviewing you?
  • Have you researched interview questions and prepared answers?

Total remuneration package

After you have researched companies, completed the application process and performed well in the interview process you may be lucky enough to receive one or more offers.  Money is a crucial factor to consider when choosing the right role, not only as a graduate also throughout your career.  Understanding the elements that make up your total remuneration package (TRP) is important.  TRP is made up of your base salary plus agency superannuation contribution and any other benefits and supplementary payments including, but not limited to, vehicles, mobile phones, flights, accommodation, bonuses and site allowance.  In Australia, the minimum superannuation a company must contribute is 9.5% of an employee’s ordinary time earnings and must be paid at least four times a year.  When a company makes you an offer, ensure you understand what is included in the package and calculate what your ‘take-home’ amount is.  What starts out as a considerable amount can be reduced quickly if the company takes out flights and accommodation and remember that site allowance will be removed for the duration of rotation in head office.

Important questions to consider:

  • What is the base salary?
  • Do you get site allowance?
  • Is there an annual bonus and how do you qualify for that bonus?
  • Are there any exclusions from the package such as accommodation or flights?
  • How often are you paid?
  • How much superannuation is contributed to by the company?
  • Does the role come with transportation to and from the mine or do you need to provide a car?

Remote support for our clients: Hugh’s story

Principal Mining Consultant at MEC Mining, Hugh Cassidy shares how he is continuing to support his clients through the expediential threat engulfing operations worldwide.

“As an experienced Operations Manager finishing my rotation at the Lihir Gold mine in PNG, when Newcrest Mining announced that they would be stopping FIFO flights from Australia my first thought was not about getting home to Australia; it was about how can I help them maintain the momentum on their improvement initiatives when I am back in Australia.

Arriving back in Brisbane coming home to settle into my 14-day self-isolation period and being human I started to dwell on how unfair life can be. Stuck inside after working for a month. But anyone who knows me understands I don’t dwell on negatives for very long. So, I started to look at the reality of the situation.

The mining industry is going to be a key part of the strategy for Australia to pull through the COVID-19 pandemic. Already our borders are closed, our service industries are being devastated so we need a flagship.

Therefore, remote work is not only essential it has now become more of a national responsibility. We need to keep the country moving in this time of dire need. We need to provide the fundamental and financial backbone to help the recovery process when we have conquered this national challenge.

Looking back on a long career I am surprised at how our industry has adapted as far as working remotely is concerned and how the many professionals in our industry have unwittingly been working remotely for years. Thinking on my career my first thoughts were about the strategies to cater for skill shortages, Gen Y’s for work life balance, carer’s leave, job sharing etc.

The list goes on and then I thought back in my career, and to remote technology. I remember being in Port Hedland hospital for the birth of my daughter some 26 years ago. Reading reports and sending faxes back to site. Doing my degree by distance education as would many of the readers might have done with online studies. Working remotely getting work done, submitting that work. 

We have been slowly progressing towards this day. Who would have thought that a pandemic would be the big cause to drop all the procedural, beurocratical, trust issues that have been keeping us from implementing a wider range of remote work? 

Some of our clients have been at the forefront of remote work by centralising services such as dispatch and Tech services to major capitals. So, I think it’s the time, I remember the days after getting off the boat (plane) from Scotland some 30 years ago. Memory tells me that a letter home took about three weeks, a phone call back to Scotland basically meant a day trip to Sydney CBD to queue up for a phone at the GPO.

Today we have, emails, the “cloud”, Skype, and things the Webex that make remote work so easy and productive. For years it was the people on the mine who were doing work and sending it down to head office, 2020 might be the year that leadership in the mining industry realises that there is no going back, and that remote work is more the norm than the exception.

At MEC Mining, and as the 2020 consultancy company of the year, we pride ourselves for being at the forefront of adding maximum value to our clients around the globe. Little did we know that our recent restructure would put us in the perfect position to be innovative, adaptable, flexible and creative in supporting our customers to give them the right help, at the right time and to help them navigate through these incredible challenges our industry faces.

The jury is out for now. Is this the new normal? Do you have a need that can be achieved remotely? Or is there a logical place for MEC Mining in your strategy or structure moving forward?”

How to keep yourself productive when working from home: six tips for the uninitiated

First and foremost, our hearts go out to those across the globe who are impacted by the COVID-19 virus. With the current threat level of this virus, we can expect disturbances to our work life, as well as our home life – including changes to where we set up for work each day. In the coming weeks, more and more employees in Australia will be encouraged and/or directed to work from home in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

MEC Mining’s General Manager of Operations, Christofer Catania has advised that “with the evolving conditions related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the changes being implemented across the industry, we are working to ensure business stability for all of MEC Mining and implementing measures to ensure minimal disruption to our employees, clients and business operations”.

But for those accustomed to their workplace, a common concern is, “How can I keep myself productive when working from home?”. Here are MEC Mining’s six tips on how to keep yourself motivated while working from home during this time of crisis:

Tip #1: Set your alarm

Act as though you’re going to work. Set an alarm and get out of bed in the morning as soon as you wake up; lying in will only allow you to feel unfocused and drowsy. Have a shower, get dressed (not in pyjamas!) and have breakfast before beginning your workday.

Tip #2: Set up your space

If you have a spare room or study to use as an office space, we recommend keeping anything work-related in there. Arrange a monitor, keyboard, mouse and ensure they’re set up ergonomically. (Here is an excellent video on tips for a great workstation set up). We also advise ensuring your workspace is well lit and has fresh air coming through the room.

Not surprisingly, we don’t recommend setting yourself up on the couch or in bed as this will quickly blur the line between home and work, making it harder to relax when you’re ‘off’, and make it harder to focus at work when you’re ‘on’.

Tip #3: Set your goals

Have a chat with your manager and ensure you’re clear on the tasks you need to complete, and by when. This will help to ensure you stay motivated, focused and meet your deadlines. Consider creating a checklist as sometimes little wins mean big satisfaction, especially when you don’t have colleagues around to recognise your accomplishments.

Tip #4: Check-in with your colleagues

And on that note, don’t forget to check in with your colleagues. You’re all still working so don’t forget to phone around to update your team members on the status of your projects and keep connected rather than feeling lonely or isolated.

We encourage you to urge your employer/manager to set up a team meeting first thing each morning to ensure you are all on the same page and all pulling in the same direction to smash your project log. Remember that you are not alone – others struggle with balancing these disruptions just as much as you do, and you may discover new ways of staying focused.

Tip #5: Take breaks

You can’t expect to work non-stop all day and trying to certainly won’t help you to stay focused. Remember to take your lunch break – away from your computer. During this time maybe go for a walk or run an errand. This will help you feel refreshed and ready to knuckle down when you come back to your desk.

Tip #6: Reward yourself

You may be motivated simply by knowing your manager is expecting your work at a certain time, but if you work for yourself or don’t have to report in regularly to anyone you should try to come up with ways of rewarding yourself at the end of each task or day.

A note for our clients and partners on COVID-19

The unfolding coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis is creating complex and evolving challenges worldwide. Following events and escalation over the past few days, I wanted to update you on MEC Mining’s current status and approach.

Supporting Our Team

Our top priority is the safety and support of our people to ensure we continue to provide excellent service to our clients. We are following guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and local governments and, so far, we have seen minimal disruption to our organisation. However, we are taking precautions in the best interests of MEC Mining and our employees.

Business Continuity

We are supporting our teams to work remotely using our integrated technology, video conferencing, remote data and systems access and other collaborative tools. Enabling our teams to continue to support our clients and their needs means we remain fully operational.

We are confident in the resilience of our business and our ability to continue to provide our full range of services throughout this period, whilst supporting the health and wellbeing of our staff. Our Business Continuity Plans detail the measures and practical steps we are taking across all our office locations in response to the risks posed by COVID-19.

Client Support and Advice

Your projects and operations are extremely important to us and we remain dedicated to working together in navigating the challenges ahead. We are committed to keeping current and emerging projects on track by remaining responsive to your needs in these unprecedented times. Helping you overcome challenges to your projects is what we do best.

In the weeks ahead, we will continue to monitor and respond to COVID-19, providing you with relevant insights around its potential impacts.

We appreciate your understanding in this matter, but should you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Warm regards,

Chris Catania

General Manager of Operations

Meet Negin – 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 and Team Leader, Negin Beaton and asked her some questions to showcase her view on what it means to be a woman in the mining and resources sector.

Negin is a team leader of four mining engineers and does consulting work for a variety of projects and resources including midterm planning, pit optimisation and maximising operational efficiency at our Brisbane office.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? 

  • Celebrate our successes by showcasing inspiring and leading females (particularly in industries where females are underrepresented)
  • Share our challenges and lessons learnt – we’ve all had a role to play in changes that have been made so far but we have a way to go
  • Empowerment for all towards a diverse and inclusive workforce
  • Every day should be IWD, until a day it is no longer needed (we have achieved equality)

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

  • We ALL have a role to play to achieve the diversity in an industry that is proven to lead to better work environments and better performing teams
  • Our male champions of change are equally as integral to the culture shift that is required
  • Collaborating our efforts to address gender biases and challenge stereotypes – which is being done, but measuring the effectiveness of these strategies and whether what we are doing is enough to make an impact

How do you overcome challenges in gender equality?

  • I challenge the norm and will speak up to be part of the change required that will support future females in similar roles while sharing the rewarding career I have had so far to inspire those who have not otherwise considered Engineering as a career path

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

  • YES – multiple
  • I draw strength and inspiration from female role models that are in senior positions, and balancing work and life – a past official mentor of mine fit this description perfectly and I learnt a lot from her where your support network is such a huge factor in your successes
  • I have had a very rewarding career where I have always felt supported, and very rarely have I felt like I was the female, rather just one of the engineers 
  • My current (informal) mentors are all males and key to my career successes and pathways to date

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

  • My passion and motivation to address gender diversity specifically in Engineering has led to my role in the last year running the UQ Women in Engineering program which I’m very excited to continue working within 2020, as well as balancing my time with MEC as a Senior Mining Engineer
  • I believe we all need to see the bigger picture here and support building the pipeline of talent coming through – my work with the University is largely focused on the engagement with prospective students in high school
  • We need to educate our future pipeline of talent that diversity of inputs is proven to lead to better-performing teams and in Engineering, this fosters innovation ultimately allowing for better outcomes and solutions to challenges we are facing as a society

Today and every day we celebrate the incredible women in our organisation here at MEC Mining who do great things for the sector.

#WeareMECMining #IWD2020 #EachForEqual

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.                               


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.


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.


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

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

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

The Daily Omnivore. (2011). The Abilene Paradox [Image]. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from