A Case Study of Small Group Decision-Making as Influenced by the Abilene Paradox: The 'Challenger' Mishap
AIR WAR COLL MAXWELL AFB AL
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On 27 January 1986 a group of decision-makers representing the public and private sectors of leadership in our national space exploration program evaluated the risk associated with known discrepancies in solid rocket motor seals. The risk assessment that was made led the group to agree that the discrepancies were within an acceptable margin of safety and authorized the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger . Two phenomena which describe flawed decision-making processes, groupthink and the Abilene Paradox, provide a framework for a study of the agreements which culminated in the launch of Challenger . Analysis of the pitfalls of the decision-making process reveals various phenomena. One of them is known as groupthink or, e.g., a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in cohesive in- groups. They exhibit the desire... for unanimity which overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. Another pitfall in the decision-making process is described in the Abilene Paradox. It is described as a phenomenon which occurs when decision-making groups take actions in contradiction to available information when dealing with problems. The mismanagement of agreement is central to the issue of understanding dysfunctional organizational behavior.