#ChellesHRCollection: The Culture Code Book Review, Part One



It’s been four months since #SHRM18, and among the new friends that I made while in Chicago, I still reflect on the sessions that I attended. Culture was a focus area that left me wanting to learn more! So, I started reading The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle. With so many books about culture, this one walks you through what it takes for an organization to build an incredible culture (with real examples). As Coyle begins, he asks an important question: “Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?” It comes down to culture, says Coyle. More specifically, it’s “a set of living relationships working toward a common goal.” – and getting this right is the key to unlocking the potential of any team.   

Coyle spent four years visiting and researching eight of the world’s most successful groups. He starts out by sharing an experiment between two different groups, a group of business school students and a group of kindergartners. Each group had the same project: build a spaghetti tower. The kindergartners succeed because they work together in a smarter way and because of their interaction with each other. Coyle teaches us that culture comes down to these three skills:

  1. Build Safety: explores how signals of connection generate bonds of belonging cues.
  2. Share Vulnerability: explains how habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.
  3. Establish Purpose: tells how narratives create shared goals and values.

Safety begins and is built from something Coyle calls “Belonging Cues”. These are behaviors that create a safe connection within groups. Just as with the language we speak to each other, belonging cues are more than an isolated moment time, they are balanced rhythm of connections within a social relationship.

Coyle defines the three basic qualities of belonging cues and they are:

  1. Energy: They invest in the exchange that is occurring.
  2. Individualization: They treat the person as unique and valued.
  3. Future orientation: They signal the relationship will continue.

Let’s take a look at REI. I find REI’s “For All” culture interesting. Not only does REI make a commitment to its employees, REI says that its employees give “life to their purpose”. Which is why REI is one of FORTUNE magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for 22 years in a row. When employees are fully immersed in the same interests as the company they work for, the culture drives itself forward effortlessly. Culture that is owned and driven by the same people sets value in their voices.

Key Takeaway: Building safety is at the core of culture. In order to build safety, you have to build belonging cues.


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