Book Review: The Culture Code


The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle has lately been the topic of several blogs, tweets, and conversations between people I respect.  I knew I had to check it out!  In my leadership role, the main thing I do is help set the temperature for the culture and climate of the group that I lead.  I take that very seriously.  My heart for serving my team is that their time on my team would bring them great joy as well as be a source of great joy for their family.  As our teachers live out their calling, I want them to be fulfilled in the way that they pursue each day investing in both their students and their teammates.  There are tons of takeaways from this book.  Reading this book now is good timing as we prepare to wrap up the school year while planning to kick off a new one in a few months!  This is an area I want to grow in!

I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less? p. xv
  • We focus on what we can see—individual skills.  But individual skills are not what matters.  What matters is the interaction. p. xvii
  • Group culture is one of the most powerful forces on the planet.  We sense its presence inside successful businesses, championship teams, and thriving families, and we sense when its absent or toxic.  We can measure its impact on the bottom line. p. xviii
  • Skill 1-Build Safety: explores how signals of connection generate bonds of belonging and identity.
  • Skill 2-Share Vulnerability: explains how habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.
  • Skills 3-Establish Purpose: tells how narratives create shared goals and values.  These three skills work together from the bottom up, first building group connection and then channeling it into action. p. xix
  • Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal.  It’s not something that you are.  It’s something you do. p. xx
  • Safety is not mere emotional weather but rather the foundation on which strong culture is built. The deeper questions are, Where does it come from?  And how do you go about building it? p. 6
  • Belonging cues are behaviors that create safe connection in groups.  They include, among others, proximity, eye contact, energy, mimicry, turn taking, attention, body language, vocal pitch, consistency of emphasis, and whether everyone talks to everyone else in the group. p. 11
  • Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful overarching idea: We are safe and connected. p. 15
  • Cohesion happens not when members of a group are smarter but when they are lit up by clear, steady signals of safe connection. p. 26
  • I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them. p. 56
  • 1.  You are part of this group.  2.  This group is special; we have high standards here.  3.  I believe you can reach those standards. p. 56
  • My job is to architect the greenhouse. p. 67
  • Closeness helps create efficiencies of connection. p. 72
  • One of the most vital moments for creating safety is when a group shares bad news or gives tough feedback.  In these moments, it’s important not simply to tolerate the difficult news but to embrace it. p. 77
  • When you enter highly successful cultures, the number of thank-yous you hear seems slightly over the top. p. 78
  • Here is the unheralded person who makes our success possible. p. 81
  • Create spaces that maximize collisions. p. 82
  • This is what I would call a muscular humility—a mindset of seeking simply ways to serve the group.  Picking up the trash is one example, but the same kinds of behaviors exist around allocating parking spots (egalitarian, with no spots reserved for leaders), picking up checks at meals (the leaders do it every time), and providing for equity in salaries, particularly for start-ups.  These actions are powerful not just because they are moral or generous but also because they send a larger signal: We are all in this together. p. 86
  • Of course, threshold moments don’t only happen on day one; they happen every day.  But the successful groups I visited paid attention to moments of arrival. p. 87
  • This obvious one is still worth mentioning, because laughter is not just laughter; it’s the most fundamental sign of safety and connection. p. 88
  • The crew of United Flight 232 succeeded not because of their individual skills but because they were able to combine those skills into a greater intelligence. They demonstrated that a series of small, humble exchanges—Anybody have ideas?  Tell me what you want, and I’ll help you—can unlock a group’s ability to perform.  The key involves the willingness to perform a certain behavior that goes against our every instinct; sharing vulnerability.  p. 97
  • The BrainTrust is Pixar’s method of assessing and improving its movies during their development. (Each film is BrainTrusted about half a dozen times, at regular intervals). p. 98
  • At the Navy SEALs, such uncomfortable, candor-filled moments happen in the After Action Review, or AAR.  The AAR is a gathering that takes place immediately after each mission or training session: Team members put down their weapons, grab a snack and water, and start talking. p. 99
  • Exchanges of vulnerability, which we naturally tend to avoid, are the pathway through which trusting cooperation is built.  p. 112
  • Cooperation, as we’ll see, does not simply descend out of the blue.  It is a group muscle that is built according to a specific pattern of repeated interaction, and that pattern is always the same: a circle of people engaged in the risky, occasionally painful, ultimately rewarding process of being vulnerable together. p. 113
  • When we talk about courage, we think it’s going against an enemy with a machine gun.  The real courage is seeing the truth and speaking the truth to each other.  People never want to be the person who says, “Wait a second, what’s really going on here?”  But inside the squadron, that is the culture, and that’s why we’re successful. p. 145
  • Three great questions: The one thing that excites me about this particular opportunity is _________________.  I confess, the one thing I’m not so excited about with this particular opportunity is __________________.  On this project, I’d really like to get better at _________________.  p. 153
  • Building habits of group vulnerability is like building a muscle.  It takes time, repetition, and the willingness to feel pain in order to achieve gains.  And as with building muscle, the first key is to approach  the process with a plan. p. 158
  • Leaders should ask their people these three questions: 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? p. 159
  • Are we about appearing strong or about exploring the landscape together?  Are we about winning interactions or about learning together? p. 162
  • The most effective listeners behave like trampolines.  They aren’t passive sponges.  They are active responders, absorbing what the other person gives, supporting them, and adding energy to help the conversation gain velocity and altitude. p. 162
  • Giving honest feedback is tricky, because it can easily result in people feeling hurt or demoralized.  One useful distinction, made most clearly at Pixar, is to aim for candor and avoid brutal honesty.  By aiming for candor—feedback that is smaller, more targeted, less personal, less judgmental, and equally impactful—it’s easier to maintain a sense of safety and belonging in the group.  p. 166
  • One of the best techniques I’e seen for creating cooperation in a group is flash mentoring.  It is exactly like traditional mentoring—you pick someone you want to learn from and shadow them—expect that instead of months or years, it lasts a few hours. p. 167
  • We tend to use the word story casually, as if stories and narratives were ephemeral decorations for some unchanging underlying reality.  The deeper neurological truth is that stories do not cloak reality but create it, triggering cascades of perception and motivation.  The proof is in brain scans: When we hear a fact, a few isolated areas of our brain light up, translating words and meanings.  When we hear a story, however, our brain lights up like Las Vegas, tracing the chains of cause, effect, and meaning.  Stories are not just stories; they are the best invention ever created for delivering mental models that drive behavior.  p. 182
  • One of the best measures of any group’s culture is its learning velocity—how quickly it improves its performance of a new skill. p. 193
  • Japanese concept of kaizen “continual improvement” p. 221
  • First you are clumsy; then after a while, you get better. p. 237

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