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Perpetual: Reads | The Culture Code

Our summer series of book recommendations to empower talent and fuel brands.

Review by Nigel Robinson

I really loved The Culture Code the first time I read it. The compelling mix of fascinating anecdotes and simple yet powerful observations, makes Dan Coyle’s analysis of what makes effective teams tick, both compelling and fun to read.

With case studies ranging from the successful San Antonio Spurs basketball team, to Ray Croc’s humble leadership at McDonald’s, to the unique hiring process at Zappos, Dan Coyle brings to life some of the core facets of leadership that truly help drive team performance and are more than relevant in our new normal of the COVID-19 operating environment.

The foundational premise in the book is that the word ‘culture’ comes from the Latin Cultus (to care) and Coyle goes on to bring this concept to life by investing time in key areas of establishing belonging, building safety and sharing vulnerability. A key argument is that we all need to know “am I safe here” and “do we have a future” and leaders that can address and sustain the answers to these primeval needs will establish a strong baseline from which teams can flourish.

Through observation of teams in action, Coyle provokes that team performance measured by 5 factors which leaders should promote:

  1. Everyone in the group talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short
  2. Members maintain high levels of eye contact and their conversations and gestures are energetic
  3. Members communicate directly with one another and not just with the team leader
  4. Members carry on the conversation through back-channel and side conversations within the team
  5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team and bring information back to share with the others

Our own observations in leading teams through challenging teambuilding exercises align with these factors and the most successful teams ask a lot of questions – something highlighted in Dan Coyle’s work.

Coyle also notes that one ‘bad apple’ can destroy the dynamics of any team but that statistically (Harvard analysis), if leaders can get these simple behaviors right, that the resulting strong culture can deliver hugely improved business outcomes (+765% over 10 years compared to companies with a weak culture). “No Dickheads” is the mantra that the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team where a strong culture has enabled arguably the worlds most successful international sports team.

My favorite anecdote relates to Tony Hsieh and the importance of developing a ‘collision-rich’ workplace at Zappos – an environment where staff regularly interact with each other in informal but meaningful ways. To bring this to life, Hsieh asks a potential new senior hire to spend a few days meeting with people, each one recommended by the Zappos executive that they had just met. After a few days of self-exploration through a series of such collisions, Hsieh re-meets with the potential hire and asks them if they are ready to uproot and move to Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas based on their conversations.

Take a peek into ‘The Culture Code’ and gain the clarity you need to deliver a culture that will accelerate the performance of your business.

I give this book four and a half stars out of five.

You may also enjoy the following recommendations as well:

Measure What Matters by John E. Doerr
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Malone Scott