Daniel Coyle, the author of The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, spent four years researching many successful teams to better understand how groups thrive, along with what doesn’t work. “While culture can feel like magic, it’s not,” says Coyle. “It’s a pattern of interactions, one that remains intact regardless of the group or its purpose.”
Coyle explores and answers two primary questions: Where does great culture come from? And how do you build and sustain it in your group or strengthen in a culture that needs fixing? He answers these questions by dissecting the behaviors of seemingly unrelated but highly successful groups.
The practical skills and tools that Coyle shares are nuggets that you can experiment with when next you are on a team. For the next three weeks’ blogs, I will highlight the three skills Coyle describes along with some of the practical tactics you can begin to play with.
Skill 1: Build Safety
Coyle found that the culture within teams have primal roots, starting in structures in our brain that were built to scan for danger, our “fight or flight” response. While these structures can tell us when to flee, one of these structures, the amygdala, also tells us when we’re safe, and that feeling is key to bonding and feeling safe with others.
A work environment in which you feel safe in acting as you naturally would and speaking your mind is very conducive to group work. It’s only natural: you don’t want to keep looking over your shoulder all the time, because if you need to, you can never really focus on the task at hand.
Ideas for Action
Coyle describes many specific “Ideas for Action” in his book. Here are some of my favorites for Skill 1: Build Safety:
- Overcommunicate that you are listening: Use body language (head tilt, lean forward towards speaker, eyes unblinking and eyebrows arched) to communicate your desire to fully engage and hear what the speaker is saying. Additionally, to make others feel safer confirm your understanding by occasionally interjecting affirmations like “uh-huh,” “yes,” “got it,” and so on. Just don’t interrupt them.
- Overdo Thank-Yous: This strategy has more to do with affirming the relationship than the actual words. There is strong scientific support confirming that genuinely and often thanking a team member ignites cooperative behavior. “Thank-yous aren’t only expressions of gratitude; they’re crucial belonging cues that generate a contagious sense of safety, connection and motivation,” says Coyle.
- Eliminate Bad Apples: This action may seem obvious but I have seen too many organizations tolerate bad behavior, especially in a team environment. Coyle vehemently states that, “the groups I studied had an extremely low tolerance for “bad apple” behavior and, perhaps more important, were skilled at naming those behaviors.”
Taking tiny risks with others and making small adjustments to how you communicate can create an environment of discovery that’s needed for any great innovation to happen. Give these “tweaks” a try and let me know how it works for you.
Next week: Skill 2: Share Vulnerability
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