Groupwork Centre Blog

What we are reading, viewing and listening to – June 23

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

By Daniel Coyle

rh business books

We all want the groups we work with to buzz. US writer Daniel Coyle’s research on the recipe for success is so chockers with valuable tips and insights it’s hard to put down.
Here’s a few startling revelations.

Kinder kids kick arse

Several groups were asked to construct a tower from string, tape, a marshmallow and uncooked spaghetti. One was a group of engineers, another business students, the third group was kindergarten kids. Guess who won? Yes, the kiddies. Hands down!

Why? They got stuck in tried what worked and didn’t and constantly reported back seeking advice and support. The others got bogged down in talk and sought confirmation of their role and status. A trap for experienced players.

Culture trumps skills and education

Taking the kindergarten kids example and focusing on the workplace rather than a game, we find similar results. Tech start-ups were evaluated according to their recruitment strategies.

Three main categories emerged: the first hired leaders in their field and paid them exceedingly well. A second group threw resources at training and support for their staff. The third cluster hired not for skills but for culture. They chose people who were good team players.

After two years the survival rate, measuring those companies that were still in business and thriving, was far and away the best among the third cluster. A collaborative culture breeds success.

Team steps up when coach steps down

Americans, like Australians, love sport and sporting anecdotes abound in Coyle’s book. One story stood out for me. It was about a basketball coach who sporadically stepped out of his role as guide and mentor.

This typically happened during a break in play when players and coach huddle for tips and support. Once in a while the coach would deliberately not join the huddle. Instinctively, the players took on his role, providing the support to each other they regularly received from him.

It didn’t make him redundant – it did something more valuable. It reinforced the message to the team that by stepping up and supporting each other, they played better. The coach could only add to this recipe, the teamwork cake was baked by the players themselves.

 Coyle’s book sets out the preconditions for success that are familiar to facilitators:

  • Creating safety and belonging to build trust is the bedrock
  • Sharing vulnerability aids cohesion and performance
  • An agreed purpose coalesces a group and provides easily recognised signposts
  • Leaning into colleagues to provide support and to troubleshoot difficulties is common to all high-functioning groups

How these factors play out, and the conditions that encourage them, is not always intuitive.

Get close and personal

Take the ice hockey coach whose team regularly performs way beyond their talent level indicates they should. He takes every opportunity to be up close and personal with his players. He takes them to dinner, recommends food and wine, takes an interest in small details in their personal lives and regularly gets close in, grasping an arm, or putting his around their shoulder.

Turns out this close contact – both physical and spiritual – satisfies a human need and sets the players up to respond to the coach’s advice and expectations. What’s more, when you work within eye contact of your colleagues, your success rate improves. Proximity encourages interaction which leads to greater success. Noteworthy in this era of online meetings and gatherings.

Tell the story – over and over

Telling and retelling their story, linking this to a common goal and providing everyday feedback and encouragement is vital. No matter how often we do this, we can never do it too much!

This may be hard to grasp for some of us. Why do skilled professionals need to hear they are valuable and their work is important? Turns out it sends a signal that we are all in this together and we thrive on the deep connection, whether we are surgeons or we clean the theatre floors. Wham!

How you view your work determines the outcome

Another thing, when cleaning the hospital floors, or doing any kind of work, whether or not it is menial or repetitive, your attitude to the work counts very much towards your sense of achievement and your levels of happiness.

Cleaners who regard themselves as health hygienists keeping hospitals safe are far better performers and much happier in their work than those who regard their work as a necessity to pay the bills. How’s that? We can do the same job and have entirely different outcomes depending on our attitude!

Doing beats talking

Finally, a gentle reminder to the talkers among us (I’m one of these!): doing is more important than talking about it. By getting stuck in, we demonstrate our willingness to have a go, no matter how tricky the task. By supporting each other in our endeavours and constantly reaffirming our common goals, we remind ourselves that together we are better, and outcomes improve noticeably. Thus, the kindergarten kids.

We all crave third-party evidence that confirms what we know from experience about group work. Daniel Coyle’s book, focusing on the corporate sector, sporting teams and the military (I know, right!) is a valuable reminder that the formula for success rests on connection more than anything else.


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