When 10 British Army soldiers on a 10-day training exercise descended into Low’s Gully, a narrow chasm that cuts through Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo, each knew “the golden rule for such expeditions—never split up.” Yet, the fittest three struggled out of the jungle with a concussion, malaria, and infected wounds 19 days later; two more terribly ill soldiers found a village the next day; and the remaining five emaciated and injured men were rescued from a cave by a helicopter on day 33. What happened? On a surface level, the near-tragic fracturing of the group began with a logical division of labor, according to the training’s initiators, Lieutenant Colonel Neill and Major Foster: Because the group would be one of the mixed abilities, and the young British and NCOs [non-commissioned officers] were likely to be fitter and more experienced than the Hong Kong soldiers, the team would work in two halves on the harder phases of the descent. The British, taking advantage of Mayfield’s expertise (in rock climbing), would set up ropes on the difficult sections, while he [Neill] and Foster would concentrate on bringing the Hong Kong soldiers down. Every now and then the recce (reconnaissance) party would report back, and the expedition would go on down in one unit until another reconnaissance party became necessary. The men reported that from then on, perilous climbing conditions, debilitating sickness, and monsoon rains permanently divided the group. A review board found differently, blaming Neill’s and Foster’s leadership and their decision to take some less-experienced soldiers on the exercise. No rulings were made about the near-catastrophic decision to divide the group, but closer inquiries show that this temporary workgroup of diverse members who were not previously acquainted started out with a high level of intragroup trust that dissolved over time. The resulting faultlines, based on members’ similarities and differences and the establishment of ad hoc leaders, may have been inevitable. Initially, all group members shared the common ground
of soldier training, clear roles, and volunteer commitment to the mission. When the leaders ignored the soldiers’ concerns about the severity of conditions, lack of preparation, and low level of communication, however, trust issues divided the group into subgroups. The initial reconnaissance party established common ground and trust that allowed them to complete the mission and reach safety, even though they were divided yet again. Meanwhile, the main group that stayed with the leaders in the cave under conditions of active distrust fractured further. We will never know whether it would have been better to keep the group together. However, we do know that this small group of soldiers trained to stay together for survival fractured into at least four subgroups because they didn’t trust their leaders or their group, endangering all their lives.
9-31. The review board blamed Neill and Foster. Was this a fair conclusion? Where should blame be
apportioned under the circumstances?
9-32. Discuss the group properties presented in this chapter and use them to evaluate the failure of this group.
9-33. When the exercise was designed, Neill created a buddy system based on the similarity of soldiers’ backgrounds (rank, unit, age, fitness, and skills level). The first group out of the jungle was assigned buddies and one other: two lance corporals and one corporal from the same unit (regular army); ages 24–26 with good fitness levels; all top roping and abseiling (TR&A) instructors. The second group out were assigned buddies: a sergeant and a lance corporal from the same unit (elite regular army); ages 25 and 37; with good fitness levels; both with Commando Brigade skills. The group left in the cave split into a lieutenant colonel and a major (buddies); one from the regular army and one from the part-time territorial army; ages 46 and 54; fair fitness level; one TR&A and one ski instructor. The second faction was the three from the Hong Kong unit—a lance corporal and two privates, all from the Hong Kong unit; ages 24–32; fair to good fitness levels; one with jungle training and two novices. Would you have set up the buddy system Neill did? Why or why not, and if not, what would you have changed?
Sources: M. A. Korsgaard, H. H. Brower, and S. W. Lester, “It Isn’t Always Mutual: A Critical Review
of Dyadic Trust,” Journal of Management 41, no. 1 (2014): 47–70; R. L. Priem and P. C. Nystrom,
“Exploring the Dynamics of Workgroup Fracture: Common Ground, Trust-with-Trepidation, and
Warranted Distrust,” Journal of Management 40, no. 3 (2014): 764–95; and “The Call of Malaysia’s ‘Conquerable’ Mount Kinabalu,” BBC, June 5, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33020356.
Go to mymanagementlab.com for the following Assisted-graded writing questions:
9-34. Considering Case Incident 1, what are some ways groups can improve the effectiveness of consensus methods to make decisions?
9-35. After reading Case Incident 2, do you feel subgroups are good or bad? Why or why not? What might be the alternative?
9-36. MyManagementLab Only – comprehensive writing assignment for this chapter.