“While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”
What makes successful groups excel? Where does great culture come from? And how do you build and sustain it in your group or strengthen in a culture that needs fixing? These are fundamental questions asked by Daniel Coyle, contributing editor for Outside Magazine and the author of six books, in his latest book The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful People.
Coyle visited an inner-city school, the San Antonio Spurs, a comedy troupe, Navy SEAL squads, and a gang of jewel thieves, among others, and delved into the science of trust and belonging to compile this analysis of how group culture works — and how to replicate the most successful examples. He spends time with them, observes how people behave, what their leaders are like, and spots patterns that we can all learn from.
Across all these different sectors and varied groups, Coyle distills shared themes in the culture of a successful group:
- They build safety, exploring how signals of connection generate bonds of belonging and identity.
- They share vulnerability, explaining how habits of mutual risk drive trusting identity.
- They establish purpose, expressing narratives to create shared goals and values.
These themes will be expressed in different ways, aligned with diverse settings and contexts. The way that belonging is signaled in a military operation is different from an advertising agency or a hardware store. Purpose can be expressed through mission statements, corporate pledges, catchphrases and all kinds of different initiatives.
Alongside the interviews and detailed ground observations, Coyle makes extensive use of psychology. As he explores the three main themes, he introduces experiments that help to explain human behavior. We look at body language, eye contact, unspoken ways that we communicate our expectations or lack of them. Little things turn out to matter more than one might expect – thank you is surprisingly powerful, interruptions shut down interaction. Each chapter concludes with practical suggestions for applying the ideas in the readers’ context. Some of these might turn out to be long-term efforts to change a culture and bring in better practices. Others are very simple – phrases you can use to get people talking, good questions to ask. I imagine most people would find things that they could immediately use in their workplace, whether they are in a leadership position or not.
This is a book that will help you create a strong and supportive culture in your credit union. If you want to learn how to create and maintain a positive and strong culture, read The Culture Code.