Good Read: Cracking the Culture Code

Review by: Angela Fieler, MPA, CMQ/OE, Consultant

If you are looking for a great read with powerful purpose and practical ideas, Daniel Coyle’s new book, “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups”, should be right up your alley.  Coyle is a best-selling author for a reason.  He combines theory and practice with masterful story-telling to show you organizational culture as you’ve never seen it before. 

I loved the way the book is structured.  Coyle set out to look deeply into a few top-performing cultures to see what makes them tick.  In studying these groups, he identified three universal skill sets that he believes are the secrets to creating highly successful groups.  For each skill, Coyle provides academic research to support why the skill is effective.  Then he tells stories that illustrate the skill in action.  And finally, he wraps up each skill with a chapter full of concrete ideas on how to apply that particular skill.

I’ll admit that I was partial to the Navy SEAL team stories – 25 years in the Navy might explain that.  But the truth is I was able to connect with every story he told, because Coyle does such a great job of intertwining what he observed in the organizations he visited with both his concepts and with each other.  The stories aren’t just informative, they are inspiring.  I want to see and feel what Coyle did as he observed and studied each organization.  He has me so intrigued that I want to go to all Danny Meyers’ Manhattan restaurants, to cheer on that New Zealand rugby team, and to sit at a table with some kindergarten students and watch them play with spaghetti, tape, and a marshmallow! 

It is true that, taken individually, many of the practical tips have been suggested before.  At the Baird Group, we are aligned with many of Coyle’s suggestions to encourage our clients to adopt behaviors and processes that will improve their expectation setting, communication, measurement, recognition, and innovation.  It is within the context of his three universal skills that Coyle sheds new light on these tried and true ideas.  I’ll leave you to read about how he uses slime mold to explain the concepts of creating priorities, naming keystone behaviors, and flooding the environment with heuristics that link the two.  I will share these two examples to illustrate my point. 

Included in the “Share Vulnerability” skill is what most of us call active listening.  Coyle takes the concept of active listening a step further and says listening is “about adding insight and creating moments of mutual discovery” and finding “different ways to explore an area of tension, in order to reveal the truths and connections that will enable cooperation.”  Clearly, this is listening with a purpose that goes beyond simply understanding the message.  When referring to the skill “Establish Purpose”, Coyle says this about story-telling, “Stories do not cloak reality but create it, triggering cascades of perception and motivation.”  He goes on to say that in story-telling, you are sharing “every day moments when people can sense the message ‘this is why we work; this is what we are aiming for.’” Story-telling has long been a tool to illustrate desired behaviors, but thinking of them as a trigger to cascading change is very powerful imagery. 

I’ll leave you with one thought that Coyle shares at the beginning of the book:

CULTURE: from the Latin cultus, which means care

Show you care about your teams and their success.  Transform your organization by transforming your culture.