Group Relations: A College Experiment Gone Bad

In 2007 I participated in a Group relations experiment made famous by the Tavistock Institute. This experiment is repeated all around the world to similar profound results.

It went like this. My college professor dismissed our class with a warning. “Hey, everyone, next week’s class I won’t be here,” he said. “You’ll be doing a fun exercise with a proctor. Same place, same time.”

I nearly forgot about this information until I walked into class the next week to find our normal rows of chairs rearranged into a circle. About thirty of us students took our seats and our substitute teacher came in and gave us clear instructions. 

“Today we’ll be doing an exercise,” he offered. “Your only task is to observe the behavior in the room.”

He looked down at his watch, looked up, and said, “We’ll begin now.”

He promptly sat in silence for the next 55-minutes. As it turns out, human beings don’t like uncertainty and environments that lack structure. It started with nervous laughter. This, then, shifted to palpable discomfort. Some individuals tested the waters with statements announced to the room like, “We’ll I’m gunna do homework.” Another guy got up and left. Both actions were immediately triggered for extreme self-reflection by the rest of the students. It seemed like everyone asked themselves silently, “Is that okay? Could I do that?”

Soon someone elected themselves “leader” by jumping up to save the day by starting a group game of hangman. It felt like a relief until a decenter asked, “Why do you get to decide what we play?”

The room dissolved into pure chaos. 

As it turns out, my observation of the room was not unlike observations that are repeated every time this experiment is done. (Yes, that includes a savior leader emerging who is later assassinated by the group.) The lesson I took from this experiment has stayed with me to this day is simple:

Humans desperately want to be led. 

What do we do with this information? Lead! Show people the way. Hell, right now so many of your iPhone contacts want to have a fun dinner and they’re all waiting for someone else to organize it. 

Create the thing. Lead. Do it.

1/18/23 WOD


Barbell Floor Press

Complete 3 rounds for quality of:

8 Pause Barbell Hip Thrusts
10 Single Arm DB Row (ea)

Then, complete the following for time:

1 6th St Hill Run
40 Push Ups
1 Bull Run
50 KB Front Rack Squats (62/44)
1 6th Street Hill Run


Eccentric Chin Up (40X3)

Complete 3 rounds for quality of:

8 1-Arm DB Bent Rows (ea)
12-15 Lat Pull Downs
Max Push Ups to Barbell 

Then, AMRAP 12

6 Hang Cleans (155/105)
12 Slam Balls
24 Double Unders