Culture Code

When not reading the adventures of Jules Verne, or mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, my non-fiction reading list usually consists of biographies, or something historical. After a few urgings, I picked up, read, and thoroughly enjoyed "The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups" by Daniel Coyle.

As the title suggests, it provides insight on how highly successful teams are formed. However, the conventions don't always follow the traditional pattern. It's not hiring the smartest people. It's not building a team with the most experience. Team dynamics is equally important.

It's an engaging read where kindergartners can succeed where CEOs and MBAs fail. There are multiple stories where the team with the biggest budget, the most experience, and the most confidence wasn't the team to win the prize. Where great ideas are ruined by mediocre teams, yet mediocre ideas are turned into success by great teams.

How leaders, real leaders, will create an environment that makes a great team. For example, how did Google come out of "nowhere?" How does Pixar consistently make such great movies? How can sports team repeatedly win, when on paper, they don't have the best players?

It's multiple stories about how you need to fail early and often so you know how to succeed. To embrace those failures as they make you a better person.

It also shows how asking for help is a sign of strength rather than weakness. Getting help is how we establish and build trust.

There were dozens of great moments throughout, but here are two that really struck a chord.

  • When a team dynamic sends the message to each member, "We are together now."
  • When a restaurant owner turns to his manager and says, "We know tonight will be a success when you ask for help at least 10 times."

Those statements stopped me in my tracks.

There was so much to take in, it will take a second reading to dig deeper into these fantastic ideas and methods.

I was so drawn in, I'm reevaluating my own work situation. Things have been "off" for about a year, if not a bit longer. Culture Code has shed light to give me a better understanding as to why.

Several years ago, we were a pretty successful company because of the people, the mindset, the communication and the "togetherness" we shared. I felt that when I interviewed, but did't have the language or understanding to articulate it.

Our success lead to merging with another company who, in their sphere, functioned in the much the same way. They had formed their own mindset and togetherness.

We worked great together. Unfortunately, working side by side, "shoulder to shoulder," we don't share the same kind of togetherness. Before we could sort through that, we were acquired by a much larger company. They have their own identity, which doesn't blend with the first two. Both of our cultures and identities have been changed.

  • The psychological safety of the original company I joined is gone
  • There is no time to ask for help, and no one to give it if you did
  • The mindset has completely changed
  • The team dynamics have radically shifted
  • People are now driven by titles and self-promotion
  • People want to be recognized for their individual success at the expense of the team

To that end, I feel my future probably lies elsewhere. I don't feel I "belong" anymore, meaning, the sense of belonging I felt 5 years ago is disappearing. Our culture code has changed.

Sure, it's possible to get it back, if the company at large worked to make it happen. But, we aren't the small company we used to be. Further, we have new demands and definitions of success from on high.

My story aside, Culture Code was absolutely worth reading, even though it was a little depressing. It was hard to acknowledge what was missing from within my company. To see how we used to behave. To look back and see the points where things didn't change for the better.

Yet, Culture Code demonstrates the possibilities. Bad process can be reshaped into success. Seemingly underperforming teams can be given the tools and freedom to recreate themselves into incredibly successful ones. Great ideas don't start off that way, they are formed and shaped through honest feedback and candor.

Culture Code has given me a lot to think about this year. If I truly am to change course and seek out another company, I have a dozens questions to ask of whoever I talk to.

With "team" taking on a whole new meaning under current conditions, Culture Code, will help be a lighthouse for better communication and success as we find different ways of working together.

Then again, I could be wrong.

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