Book Review: "The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups" by Daniel Coyle

I enjoyed reading "The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups" by Daniel Coyle. It has lots of great stories about groups in various fields (SEALs, sports teams, corporate environments, creative companies, aircraft crew and more) and the various (often subtle) attributes that makes these teams successful.

Key takeaways for me were:
  • Safety is the foundation on which strong culture is built.
    • Our brain is obsessed with psychological safety and we require lots of signalling over and over to feel safe.
    • A sense of belonging is easy to destroy and hard to build.
  • Patterns of interaction of successful groups that have good chemistry often include:
    • 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
    • Intense, active listening
    • Humour, laughter
    • Small attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors etc.)
  • Vulnerability tends to spark cooperation and trust.
    • If you send a signal you have weaknesses then the recipient often relaxes, connects and starts to trust.
    • Good teams often do a lot of extreme stuff together. A constant stream of vulnerability gives them a richer, more reliable estimate of their trustworthiness and brings them closer so they can take more risks. 
  • After action reviews / Retrospectives after a mission or initiative are useful to improve team success.
    • Discuss and replay key decisions, talk about mistakes, learn, ask why several times. 
    • The goal is not to assign credit or blame but rather to build a shared mental model that can be applied moving forward.
    • A good after action review structure is:
      1. What were our intended results?
      2. What were our actual results?
      3. What caused our results?
      4. What will we do the same next time?
      5. What will we do differently?
  • Things to consider for an initiative:
    • What excites me about it.
    • What I'm not so excited about with this.
    • What I want to get better at with this initiative.
  • Leaders should ask their people:
    • What is one thing that I currently do that you'd like me to continue to do?
    • What is one thing that I don't currently do frequently enough that you think I should do more often?
    • What can I do to make you more effective?
  • Ideas for action include:
    • Over-communicate expectations
    • Deliver negative stuff in person
    • Listen like a trampoline (gain amplitude through repetition such as asking the question in multiple ways)
    • In conversation, resist the temptation to reflexively add value. After a scaffold of thoughtfulness suggestions can be made.
    • Have action reviews, brain trusts etc.
  • Communicate a clear consistent beacon of purpose.
  • High-purpose environments are dug out of the ground, over and over, as a group navigates its problems together and evolves to meet the challenges of a fast changing world.
  • Adopting a "What worked well/Even better if" feedback process is a good approach to encourage fixing problems and working together.


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