The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle

Why I read it… As part of a research project I was doing on staff wellbeing, I researched Self Determination Theory, a model which explores human needs. I wanted to experience these ideas in a workplace setting, and learn from other industries about how they create thriving cultures that allow people to belong and develop.

In summary:

The opening page informs us (if your Latin is rusty) that ‘culture’ comes from ‘cultus’, meaning care. That piece of etymology was a huge relief for me; this is what I was looking for.

Coyle draws upon a range of teams, industries and research studies to ponder how we can create healthy, purposeful cultures in our workplaces. He weaves in anecdotes and examples but also goes back to reflect with his own ideas, finishing each section with action points. Clean prose, well-researched ideas.

Key takeaways:

  1. Build safety – how much time and effort do we put into making sure our staff know that they belong? Coyle looks at studies of teams to see how the healthiest teams work together, and their sense of safety within the group counted for a lot: were they confident to contribute? Were they encouraged to throw big ideas out there? Had bad apples been eliminated from the team? Were the team thanked enough? This part of the book resonated most for me and has steered my thinking about how we build team cultures based on trust and opportunity.
  2. Shared vulnerability – leaders should ask questions, admit when they aren’t an expert in a certain domain, and seek help and counsel. ‘I screwed that up’ are the most important words a leader can say.
  3. Find your purpose, then over communicate it. Coyle examines how sometimes organisations can stray away from their mission and vision, getting bogged down in the day to day. Sometimes it takes a conscious realignment: what’s our purpose? How are we focused on it? Does everyone know it / understand it? Well, let’s keep telling them about it!

Favourite quote: ‘Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do’.

Favourite moment: Greg Popovich is used a few times in the ‘belonging’ section of the book. A slightly maverick NBA coach with a reputation as a volcanic bulldog with regards his temper, Coyle discusses how Popovich manages to have sky-high expectations of his players, whilst building excellent relationships with them. We hear how he has close proximity with his players when giving them feedback, how he takes an interest in their lives, and fascinatingly, how he uses team meetings (usually for basketball strategy and tactics) to teach and discuss other topical issues, in order to educate his players and promote wider interests. Coyle then links Popovich’s feedback style to an evidence-based approach, which includes 3 powerful ideas to include when developing people: ‘you belong to this group’, ‘this group is special’, and ‘I have high standards that I believe you can reach’.

Question and reflect

  • How can we enable our staff to be creative, autonomous and to feel trusted?
  • As leaders, are we prepared to share our vulnerabilities and what we don’t know? Do we ask for help?
  • What conditions can we create to help make our teams as effective as possible?

Read this if…

You are reflecting on culture within your organisation or team

You want to see a range of examples of healthy, thriving teams across many industries and professions

Find it here

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