INTER-GROUP UNITY & How to lead inter-group cooperation in an organic manner: The famous R obber’s Cave experiment #IncMagazine

Commentary by Professor B: My undergraduate degree from Purdue University was a bachelor of science in experimental psychology. In this field I learned that by conducting experiments you can discover best practices for
leadership. A classic experiment is the famous Robber’s Cave experiment. I had the opportunity to explore Robber’s Cave once. But, this article by Ari Zoldan reminds us that there are also lessons for creating group unity from this well known experiment about group dynamics.

“A 63-Year-Old Experiment Reveals the Secret to Solving Office Drama”
by Ari Zoldan, Inc. Magazine, 1/31/18.

…The Robber’s Cave experiment involved two groups of 12-year-olds, which were chosen to attend a summer camp. Each group, unaware of the other, was housed in its own cabin, where members participated in activities like swimming and hiking. Over time, the bond within each group grew so strong that they gave themselves names: the Eagles and the Rattlers. They even stenciled the names on their t-shirts.

the two groups were firmly established, the experiment moved to its second stage. Each group encountered the other for the first time, and an immediate rivalry developed. To further encourage conflict, the researchers pitted one group against the other in a series of competitions. This antagonized the groups even more, and they fought intensely to score points over the other. In the end, the Rattlers won, compounding the Eagles defeat with taunts and jeers. This further alienated the groups until, eventually, they even refused to eat together.

With the groups now in open conflict, the experiment moved to its final phase. First, the researchers tried to make the groups mingle together at a movie night or participating in fireworks. Both efforts failed, so the researchers tried a new approach: giving the groups common problems to solve together.

First, the researchers said the drinking water supply had been damaged by vandals. Upon working together to restore the water, the first signs of peace began to emerge between groups. Next, the groups were asked to collectively pay for a movie. Both groups decided on which movie to watch and, by that evening, they had started to eat together.

Over time, researchers posed more mutual problems, and solving each problem strengthened the group’s bond. The key is they were working together on goals which both groups shared an interest in achieving. This made cooperation easier and fostered the seeds of friendship. By the end of the whole experiment, the groups traveled together in the same bus as friends.

The study identifies a critical factor in fostering inter-group cooperation and harmony. Focusing on objectives in which separate parties have a mutual interest boosts inter-group cohesion. Yes, each group retains its separate identity, structure and exclusive dynamics, but when these two parties start working together on goals they both benefit from, inter-group cooperation occurs in an organic manner…

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