Why do some groups perform at a level beyond the sum of their individual parts while others perform below that? The answer lies in their culture. In this book, Daniel Coyle demystifies how a great culture is formed. In The Culture Code summary, we’ll outline the code and 3 core skills required to create and sustain a great culture. For the full details, examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.
Groups of business school students and kindergartners were challenged to build the tallest possible structure using uncooked spaghetti, tape, string and marshmallow. The business students discussed ideas and options, decided on a strategy and divided their tasks systematically. The kindergarten kids stood closely in a circle, started on the task without any strategy, and spontaneously exchanged ideas along the way. Surprisingly, the kindergartners built structures that were on average twice the height of the business students’. It turns out that group performance depends more on how people interact with one another than on their individual skills.
Does this apply universally for successful groups and cultures? How are great cultures built and sustained? To answer these questions, Coyle spent 4 years researching exceptionally-successful groups and comparing them with less successful ones. He found that these cultures stood out not because of the intelligence or skills of individual members, but because of their relationships. These in turn were built on 3 critical skills: (i) building safety, (ii) sharing vulnerability, and (iii) establishing purpose.
In this article, we’ll give a brief overview of these 3 vital skills. For more details, including empirical background and ideas for nurturing the skills in your groups, do get a copy of our full 14-page summary for more details or get the full mojo from the Culture Code book.
The Culture Code: Overview of the 3 Core Skills
Great cultures are built on 3 fundamental skills:
SKILL 1: BUILD SAFETY
In great teams, members constantly send signals of connection that say “you’re safe”. Safety is like the glue that bonds people together, creating a sense of belonging and the foundation for risk-sharing, open debate/communication and learning. Humans are biologically wired to scan our environment for danger. When we feel safe and connected, we move away from danger-lookout mode into a social mode to forge closer ties with our group. In fact social subtle cues often determine our responses and decisions much more than the actual content being communicated.
In the book and our complete summary we zoom in on research and real-life examples to explain (i) why safety matters, (ii) how safety and “belonging cues” deliver a range of outcomes like connection and staff-retention in groups like WIPRO and the San Antonio Spurs, (iii) key traits in strong groups and (iv) specific ideas for building safety and connection (e.g. communication tips, how to design spaces and systems to send belonging cues, using “threshold moments” etc.)
SKILL 2: SHARE VULNERABILITY
In strong teams, members show their weaknesses, share honest feedback, embrace uncomfortable truths and share risks. This creates a foundation for trust and cooperation.
Vulnerability is about sending a clear signal that you need help. It can build trust and cooperation so long as the receiving party detects the signal and returns a vulnerability signal (rather than pretend to have no weakness). When this happens, a vulnerability loop is created and there’s a sense of mutual-need. Group members feel safe to share risks and give open/honest feedback, so they form a shared mental model over time and can operate like a single organism.
In the book / complete 14-page summary we take a closer look at examples and insights from groups like the U.S. Navy SEALs, Pixar and IDEO to examine (i) the people, catalysts, systems and/or practices used to build risk-sharing and candor in groups and (ii) ideas for sharing vulnerability and building trust.
SKILL 3: ESTABLISH PURPOSE
Strong cultures use stories, language and behaviors to reinforce their purpose and shared values. People are constantly reminded about the direction they’re going, what they stand for and where to focus their efforts. Strong groups explicitly name their values, priorities and goals, then reinforce them through countless signals, so people are absolute clear on where they are and where they want to be, and are clearly guided through their internal mechanisms.
In the book / full book summary we’ll zoom in on examples (e.g. Johnson & Johnson, Zappos, Danny Meyer’s restaurant chain) to explain (i) what it means to create a high-purpose environment, (ii) the difference between building proficiency vs creativity, and (iii) ideas for establishing purpose (e.g. using stories, artifacts, measures, heuristics).
Other details in The Culture Code
Besides the key ideas, examples and tips presented in our summary, Daniel Coyle also presents many other vivid case studies of groups ranging from armies to airline crew, comedy groups, jewel thieves and soccer hooligans. Do get a copy of the book for the full details, get The Culture Code full summary for a detailed overview or visit http://danielcoyle.com.
Discover the code behind great cultures and extraordinary teams!