1: Our goal as leaders?

To build a high-performing team or teams.

The problem? 

Our assumptions around group culture are mostly wrong, Daniel Coyle writes in The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.

“Group culture is one of the most powerful forces on the planet,” he writes. “We sense its presence inside successful businesses, championship teams, and thriving families, and we sense when it’s absent or toxic.”

Not only can we feel it, we can also measure its impact on profitability: “A strong culture increases net income 756 percent over eleven years, according to a Harvard study of more than two hundred companies,” Daniel notes.

Yet, culture remains mysterious. 

“We all want strong culture in our organizations, communities, and families. We all know that it works. We just don’t know quite how it works,” he writes.

2: The problem is, Daniel writes, we are looking at the wrong things. “We tend to think about it as a group trait, like DNA. Strong, well-established cultures like those of Google, Disney, and the Navy SEALs feel so singular and distinctive that they seem fixed, somehow predestined.”

Is culture determined by fate? Do some groups have it, and others just don’t? 


“While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not,” he notes. “Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

Daniel spent four years researching and investigating eight of the world’s most successful groups, including a special-ops military unit, an inner-city school, a professional basketball team, a movie studio, a comedy troupe, and… (get ready for it) a gang of jewel thieves.

What did he learn?

“Cultures are created by a specific set of skills,” Daniel writes. “These skills . . . tap into the power of our social brains to create interactions.”

Specifically, there are three skills as leaders we must master to create a dynamic workplace culture and high-performing teams in a fast-changing world:

Skill 1: Build Safety: Signals of connection generate bonds of belonging and identity. Being smart is overrated.

Skill 2: Share Vulnerability: Habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation. Falibility is crucial.

Skill 3: Establish Purpose: Narratives create shared goals and values. Being nice is not as important as we think.

3: The skills, habits, and patterns of these top-performing teams were consistent across these highly diverse groups: 

• Close physical proximity, often in circles 

• Profuse amounts of eye contact 

• Physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs) 

• Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches) 

• High levels of mixing; everyone talks to everyone 

• Few interruptions

• Lots of questions

• Intensive, active listening

• Humor, laughter

• Small, attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors, etc.)

More next week!


Reflection: What are my assumptions about high-performing teams? What do I make of Daniel’s research and conclusions?

Action: Discuss with a colleague or with my team.

What did you think of this post?

Write A Comment