In coaching business executives and entrepreneurs, one of my first questions is, “What kind of culture do you want to create?” I find the answers more helpful than the traditional goal setting and performance target identification. After all, it is all about people and relationships. But defining culture and delineating it’s constituents, are not easy tasks. Consider the following quote:
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 it is absent or toxic. We can measure its impact on the bottom line. (A strong culture increases net income 756 percent over eleven years, according to a Harvard study of more than 200 companies.) Yet the inner workings of culture remain mysterious. Daniel Coyle (2018)
In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Coyle spent five plus years studying eight of the world’s most successful groups, including: a special-opts military unit, an inner city school, a professional basketball team, a movie studio, a comedy troupe, a gang of jewel thieves, and others. His selection criteria:
- They had performed in the top one percent of their domain for at least a decade (where applicable.)
- They had succeeded with a range of different personnel.
- Their culture had been admired by knowledgeable people across their industry and beyond.
- To help guard against selection bias, he also studied many unsuccessful cultures.
He found that successful cultures are created by a specific set of skills and that these skills tap into the power of our social brains, specific the amygdala. These skill sets break down into three areas:
- Build Safety: how signals of connection generate bonds of belonging and identity.
- Share Vulnerability: how habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.
- Establish Purpose: how narratives create shared goals and values.
In addition, the successful cultures he studied, had a kind of group chemistry and demonstrated a distinct pattern of interaction (pre-Covid). For example:
- Close 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.)
One final note, especially now in our current climate of building diversity, equity, and inclusivity into our cultures, regarding Building Safety, a sense of belonging is essential. Belonging cues possess three basic qualities:
- Energy: They invest in the exchange that is occurring.
- Individualization: They treat people as unique and valued.
- Future Orientation: They signal that the relationship will continue
Stayed tuned for a continuation of the topic: Belonging.
Weekly Challenge: Examine your team cultures by reviewing the three skill sets.
Supporting Your Success!