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The Culture Code

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

by Daniel Coyle 2018

4 of 5 stars ****

What makes for the most effective groups? Why do some succeed and others fail?

Daniel Coyle follows up his 2009 book The Talent Code with this gem about some of the most functional groups in existence.

The author did impressive research both in person and through historical records to locate people who figured out the best ways to build a lasting, effective culture, mostly applied to the workplace. Coyle uses numerous examples to illustrate his points, visiting such iconic groups such as Pixar, Zappos, the Navy Seals, KIPP, and the Upright Citizens Brigade improv group.

Some of the highlights for me:

- Good groups build safety. People feel at ease to offer uncomfortable critiques, unheard of in most companies, because they don't fear for their jobs when it is given. He details intense sessions in places like Pixar where people critique product honestly, allowing flaws to be exposed and improved upon. Because employees feel safe and validated for giving opinions, their contributions become more efficient and more meaningful.

- Good leaders are not afraid to show vulnerability. This goes against the nature of what it feels like to be a leader sometimes. By showing vulnerability and asking for help, members of a group feel closer and more willing to pitch in. We are wired into groups by feeling that we can contribute to other's well-being, and feel more belonging than if everyone was self-sufficient and closed off.

- Good groups have a purpose, and all members are aware of it. Coyle talks about some of the best coaches and leaders and how they motivated their groups by illustrating their purpose and goal. Handy catchphrases, used continually, also bolster group morale and energy. The author distinguishes between groups that require proficiency, like restaurants, or groups that require creativity, like movie studios.

Coyle is a good storyteller, and includes some great and inspiring stories and psychological studies to back up his points. I especially enjoyed the stories about the Christmas truce, the mission to get Osama Bin Laden, United Air Flight 232 that survived disaster through great teamwork, and how simply changing perceptions of a group of students to their teachers vastly changed assumptions, methods, and performance.

We are social animals. Without our groups, most of us would wither and die. But most groups are dysfunctional and lack good leadership. This book is a great resource for anyone who is a manager, teacher, parent, or member of any group. Each section is ended with a chapter on ideas for action, which I loved, so it can give you a chance to review and think of things in your life that you can do right away. I recommend both this and the Talent Code.

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