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books

🧩 The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle

Lessons from Zappos, Pixar, Google and more about how successful groups are built and developed.

Goodreads link

This book was full of good advice and stories to back it up. I enjoyed the look behind the scenes at impressive companies with unique cultures.

This book was recommended by Adam Grant as a great resource for learning how to improve teams and collaboration.

🚀 3-Sentence Summary

Team dynamics can be very challenging and the steps to establish a team that works well together are surprisingly simple.

Successful groups are built upon a feeling of safety. From there teams grow closer by persevering through challenges and working towards a larger goal.

Companies from Zappos to IDEO to Google to Pixar use the word family to describe their relationship with other team members; the closeness and energy goes a long way to raise job satisfaction and improve performance.

👍🏼 Who should read / watch / listen to it

Anybody that works in a team, especially people in leadership positions.

✍️ How it changed me

This inspired me to write an entire article about team dynamics.

Here is the article I wrote about team work ➡ Bringing Teams Together (Vercory)

💬 Top 3 Quotes

1. Reinforce Belonging

This idea—that belonging needs to be continually refreshed and reinforced—is worth dwelling on for a moment. If our brains processed safety logically, we would not need this steady reminding. But our brains did not emerge from millions of years of natural selection because they process safety logically. They emerged because they are obsessively on the lookout for danger.

A mere hint of belonging is not enough; one or two signals are not enough. We are built to require lots of signaling, over and over. This is why a sense of belonging is easy to destroy and hard to build.

2. When a leader in a team offers so much safety that the study volunteer (Nick) who is supposed to disrupt the group has trouble doing his job.

Most of all he radiates an idea that is something like, Hey, this is all really comfortable and engaging, and I’m curious about what everybody else has to say. It was amazing how such simple, small behaviors kept everybody engaged and on task.” Even Nick, almost against his will, found himself being helpful.

3. Little moments of social connection

These interactions were consistent whether the group was a military unit or a movie studio or an inner-city school.

I made a list:

• 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.)

📔 Summary + Notes

1) Make everyone feel safe

After joining a team it takes signals of belonging and protection to make someone feel safe. It’s important to realize that the feeling of safety is easy to destroy and difficult to build. High performance teams go above and beyond to listen and support each other. And when they can find a way to help their teammates, strong groups do just that.

At Zappos they call the connection between people collisions. Tony Hsieh, the CEO, has many high priority values but he placed these interactions above the rest. He calls collisions the lifeblood of any organization. When Zappos employees share problems and ideas with each other, they can work together to come up with innovative solutions. But that doesn’t happen when they lack the comfort to communicate.

Actionable questions

What more can you do to communicate your listening? Try out leaning forward, expressing interest, and avoiding interruption are good ways to start.

**How can you call out your fallibility?**Phrases like “I could be wrong here but…” work well

**What are some ways to thank people more?**Appreciation has been shown to create a feedback loop of safety and cooperative behavior.When do you offer positive feedback vs difficult feedback? Avoid the sandwich feedback. Make sure these are separate conversations.

2) Experience hardship together and share vulnerability

Sending a clear message that the whole team needs to help each other encourages smooth and trusting cooperation. Start with yourself. Dr. Jeff Polzer, Harvard Professor of Behavioral Economics, recommends you communicate that you have weaknesses and that you could use help.

An example of shared vulnerability is the Brain Trust meeting conducted at Pixar. Each film is reviewed five or six times throughout its development. The creative leadership team supply a steady stream of tough criticism that the directors accept and use to improve the films. Going through many exercises of tough critique brings the teams together and vastly improves the final work. Ultimately they make incredible films, even though all of them have rocky starts.

These steps are critically important. It is through sharing vulnerability that people establish closeness and trust. Innovative companies such as IDEO make it a point to hire people that embody these traits. They look to add team members that have relentless curiosity, and also make their coworkers feel cared for.

Actionable questions

What can you do to be vulnerable more often? Ask your team what you do that is good and what they want you to do more.

How can you be a better sounding board for ideas? Practice listening more, only offering a few insights. And try to create opportunities for shared discovery.

What steps can you take to embrace discomfort? Overcoming hardship is tough. The emotional pain may take time and feel inefficient but it least to a stronger team.

3) Build a high purpose environment

Does your company have a larger goal? And does your team have it’s own goal that aligns with that one? Teams work together best with clear goals and the more signals of the purpose and values the better.

A study at NASA, a place famous for high job satisfaction, reported that even the janitor described his job as “putting people on the moon.” When people are working on a cause larger than themselves it increases job satisfaction and hard work.

It is also important to illustrate a clear path to get there. You don’t want to tell people that they are sending people to Mars if you’re company builds accounting software.

Actionable questions:

What can you do to be clearer about your priorities & values? Work to be ten times better at discussing and revisiting these.

How can you differentiate between creativity goals and productivity goals? Most work involves some combination of both. The difference comes in how you motivate for those goals.

What do you measure? As Peter Drucker famously said “what gets measured get managed.”

From Pixar to Disney

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, built a tremendously successful team of creative filmmakers. When Pixar joined Disney, Ed Catmull became president of both companie and continued to lead the teams to make innovative films. He did this through focusing on the people, not the idea. He worked to make sure team members felt safe and challenged. When his team transformed the Disney culture to accept the Pixar way of interacting, they paved the way to huge successes and growth for the company.

It’s clear that leadership can make huge difference in team performance. All it takes are some simple but continuous interjections of encouragement to build trusting cooperation.

❇️ More Resources

Daniel Coyle also wrote a terrific book called The Talent Code.

I am embarrassed to admit that I did not highlight anything in the bibliography – terrible!