Daniel Coyle, in his new book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, explores and answers two primary questions: Where does great culture come from? And how do you build and sustain it in your teams or strengthen in a culture that needs fixing?
Coyle answers these questions by dissecting the behaviors of seemingly unrelated but highly successful teams. He found three common skills demonstrated by each of the groups he studied. In last week’s article, I described Skill 1: Build Safety. This week, I will highlight Skill 2: Share Vulnerability.
Skill 2: Share Vulnerability
Jeff Polzer, a Harvard professor of organizational behavior was interviewed by Coyle. Polzer said, “People tend to think of vulnerability in a touchy-feely way, but that’s not what’s happening. It’s about sending a clear signal that you have weaknesses and could use some help. And if that behavior becomes a model for others, then you can set the insecurities aside and get to work, start to trust each other and help each other.”
Polzer states that the vulnerability is less about the sender than the receiver. “Does the receiver pick up the vulnerability just revealed by the sender and do they then reveal their own weaknesses, or do they cover up and pretend they don’t have any?” If vulnerability is shared within the group, a norm is established; closeness and trust increase.
Ideas for Action
Coyle shares over 12 “ideas for action” for how to share vulnerability within teams. Here are my top three:
- Make sure the leader is vulnerable first and often: Through the multiple examples Coyle studied, he states, “group cooperation is created by small, frequently repeated moments of vulnerability; but, none carries more power than when the leader signals their vulnerability first.” When a leader needs help or has screwed up, they should say it to their teams. Leaders can also ask their teams:
- 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 want me to do more of?
- What can I do to make you more effective?
- Aim for candor; Avoid brutal honesty: Honest feedback can be hurtful or demoralizing. Instead, Coyle states, “aim for candor, which means feedback is in smaller, more targeted, less personal, less judgmental, and equally impactful — it’s easier to maintain a sense of safety and belonging in the group.”
- In conversation, resist the temptation to reflexively add value: “Say more about that,” is a magical coaching phrase and it turns out to be a mechanism used repeatedly by successful groups, as observed by Coyle. Allowing participants to step forward with their ideas and solutions creates the symbiotic team environment where anyone (not just the leader) may have a valuable contribution.
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 3: Establish Purpose
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