ICE Book Review – The Culture Code: The Secret of Highly Successful Groups

By Rob Cooney (@EMEducation)

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” -Peter Drucker

If you were to put into a new group of people with 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 meter of string, 1 meter of tape, and 1 marshmallow, with the goal of building a tower that supports the marshmallow on top, how high could you make the tower in 18 minutes? Unless you’re an engineer or kindergartner, the chances are that it wouldn’t be very high. Don’t take my word for it:

While the “marshmallow experience” provides a vivid illustration of the need to fail and iterate on projects, it also serves as an interesting display of group dynamics. Humans, being social animals, spend a lot of mental effort trying to determine where they fit in, especially as part of a new group. We quickly uncover the existing culture, determining power structures, roles, and unwritten rules. The biologic wiring for this is ancient: if we were rejected by our group, we lost a distinct survival advantage. Fast forward to modern times and as the quote above suggests, regardless of intended outcome, if we don’t pay enough attention to deliberately shaping our culture, we won’t achieve our intended outcome.

The Culture CodeIn The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle sets out to explore what sets high performing cultures apart from the rest of the field. To do this, he looks at some remarkable organizations: Google, IDEO, KIPP Schools, the US Navy SEALs, Union Square Hospitality Group, and many others. After peering behind the curtains, he brings us three skills that high performing cultures share: Build Safety, Share Vulnerability, and Establish Purpose. The book explores each of these skills in depth, breaking each into smaller, actionable ideas.

Examples include:

Building Safety within feedback language: “I’m giving you this feedback because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

Exploring vulnerability with the right questions (even anonymous): “What is one thing I don’t currently do that you think I should do more often?”

Using catch phrases combined with demonstrated action to “show” the common purpose: “If you’re not growing, you’re not going anywhere” (NZ All Blacks Rugby).

Mr. Coyle weaves together interviews, case studies, stories, and the relevant scientific and business literature into a page turner that you won’t want to set down.

As he did for individual performance with his first book, The Talent Code, Mr. Coyle does for groups with this book. The Culture Code is a book that belongs in the library of every educational leader. Read it, mark it up, dog ear the pages, and apply the actionable ideas.