I’ve just finished devouring The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, which is essentially a four year study into what makes great teams great. He has managed to distil the complexity of this topic into 3 fundamentals, which if grasped and applied by leadership, can create magic and amplify the quality delivered within the collective.
“We all know that crafting culture, is by far, the most important thing you do as a leader, but our traditional conception of culture as a soft skill, vague and mysterious, isn’t how things really work. Beneath the surface, there exists a deep grammar of human cohesion, critical signals that ignite and sustain connection and cooperation. Creating great culture isn’t magic – it’s a leadership skill you and your group can learn.” – Daniel Coyle
It’s a simple equation really and we hear it all the time – “we are as strong as our weakest link” – but what are we doing to ensure that each link is strong, empowered, enabled and able to bring the very best of themselves to the party. It is so easy to let people become invisible, or lost within the collective. A space where the loudest voices or strongest political players are lauded regardless of their contribution to the whole.
How do we encourage collaboration as opposed to competition? All too often I hear of peers competing instead of partnering or collaborating. Everyone is so internally focused, it’s no wonder the competition are eating your lunch out in the market.
So what is being asked of leadership? According to Coyle’s research here are the 3 fundamentals to creating winning cultures:
- Leaders need to Build Safety
In a world where people are generally living in a state of fight, flight or freeze, constantly looking for safety cues; it becomes imperative that leaders create a sense of belonging within the team. A place where people experience connection and have a strong sense and appreciation of their own identity. A place where bad news is tolerated and embraced, a signal that the truth is welcome.
A place where 2 types of engagement is present, “deep fun” and “shallow fun”. The issue in most contexts is that it’s all about the “shallow fun”, the pause area where people can play games and chill. These areas are important to allow for social interaction, but it needs to move beyond this into “deep fun”; where teams are given the opportunity, mandate and budget to re-design their work space. It provides ownership and therefore deeper engagement and commitment.
Finally, great leaders reveal that “we’re all in this together”. It is not just spoken about, but rather consistently role modelled through acts of service by leadership.
- Leaders create Shared Risk
This means that leaders need to reveal their own infallibility first and often. When leaders can say “I messed that up” it opens the possibility for others to do the same. It creates a level of cooperation and trust, because honesty allows teams to learn and grow stronger.
Strong teams don’t avoid making mistakes, but they make sure that they learn from them. Nobody said that this way of being is comfortable, in fact it can be downright uncomfortable and messy; but they create cohesion and strength. When we share our weaknesses we can become stronger. It’s the principle of when an issue is acknowledged, it can be dealt with. When we fail to admit our weaknesses, they remain the things that keep us stuck in a holding pattern.
Feedback is vital within the team, and nothing is trickier than providing difficult feedback to a poor performer in the team. Striking the balance between being too soft and too harsh is always a careful balancing act. Either of these two routes is never really successful as the soft approach diminishes the importance of the feedback and the brutal approach can completely demoralise the receiver. An option offered by Coyle is WWW/EBI – What Went Well and what would be Even Better If…
- Leaders need to Craft Purpose
This idea about purpose is less about inspiration and more about navigation. It’s about having a grounded criteria for decision-making that holds everyone accountable to a common objective. “Great groups relentlessly over-communicate to their teams exactly what they are about, and exactly how to get there.” The use of stories helps to guide prioritisation and problem-solving.
If you think you are over communicating the priorities, communicate them 10 times more often. This idea is supported by a recent survey of 600 organisations that found only two percent of employees could name the top three priorities of their company in order. So the importance of constantly engaging on the question, “what do we stand for?” cannot be over-emphasized.
The creation of smart catch phrases helps groups to solve problems on their own. By defining the potential problems your people may encounter, and having simple catch phrases that can define a positive response, you enable people to behave appropriately in pursuit of the shared goals.
Finally, it is important to determine whether proficiency (striving for the same outcome each time) or creativity (building something new) is required from the group and then lead accordingly. For proficiency the group needs to understand priorities and core behaviours in support of the outcomes; so map out what needs doing. If creativity is required, the supporting systems need to allow for processing many ideas so that the appropriate choices can be made; fundamentally, supporting the team as they work out what needs to be done.
The bottom line from my perspective, is that human beings show up to work, and the need to belong and be a part of something that is greater than ourselves is universal. It is imperative that in order for organisations to flourish, the human beings in the system need to flourish.