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 identified these interactions by disassembling the behaviors of highly successful teams. He found three common skills demonstrated by each of the groups he studied. I have previously overviewed Skill 1: Build Safety and Skill 2: Share Vulnerability. Let’s look at the final skill: Establish Purpose.
Skill 3: Establish Purpose
Successful teams establish purpose by relentlessly building what Coyle calls “high-performing environments. High-performing environments are filled with small, vivid signals designed to establish a link between present moment and a future ideal. They provide two simple locators that every navigation process requires: Here is where we are and Here is where we want to go.”
It is the current state and future state “story” that a team repeatedly adheres to that drives their motivation. They move as one unit toward their goal, despite each individual having a different function.
Ideas for Action
Coyle shares many ideas on how to establish purpose with teams. Here are my top three:
- Name and Rank Your Priorities: Successful groups name and rank 5 or less priorities. At the top of the list is how they treat one another. High-performing teams know that if they get their own relationships right, everything else will follow.
- Be Ten Times as Clear About Your Priorities as You Think You Should Be: Leaders can be inherently biased to presume that everyone in a group sees things as they do, when in fact they don’t. This is why it is essential to drastically overcommunicate priorities over and over again.
- Figure Out Where Your Group Aims for Proficiency and Where it Aims for Creativity: Every group skill can be sorted into one of the two basic types: skills of proficiency or skills of creativity. Proficiency is about doing a task repeatedly the same way. Creativity skills are about empowering a group to build something that never existed before. Identify these areas and tailor leadership accordingly.
High-performing teams are dug out of the ground, as a group navigates its problems together and evolves to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world. It takes the never-ending process of “building safety, sharing vulnerabilities and establishing purpose with each other to become a high-performing team.
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