The 3-part formula for a strong culture

Leaders today want to do everything in their power to ensure they have the best performing teams, to stay productive, relevant and agile. The key to achieving a high performing team lies in developing a rock-solid culture.

In his excellent book (which I highly recommend) The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle unpacks exactly what the key ingredients for a strong culture are; and is insightful and practical in equal parts. In a nutshell, great groups don’t just happen, they are built. In order to create a strong culture, or fix a broken one, you need a leader willing to reinforce the following three universal messages to the individuals in their team; “You belong. It’s safe to speak up here. We have a purpose.” Viola, simple right? Let’s explore each of these sentiments in more detail. 

  1. You belong 

    If you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ll be familiar with the concept that one of the fundamental requirements we have as human beings is the need to feel loved, give love and that we belong to a group. Only once this requirement is met, in fact, can we move on to develop good self-esteem and self-actualisation. 

    According to Coyle, once we satisfy our sense of belonging to a group, our mindset shifts from “I must protect my status” to “I want to do everything I can” – you shift from a “guard-dog” to a “wolf in a pack, hunting down a target”. A powerful concept and one that is absolutely ingrained in our human nature. So good leaders who work to instil a strong sense of belonging amongst their team can reap the rewards of having a team of high performing, dedicated wolves working hard for the common good of the pack.  

    The key to achieving this is using the culture code; which in itself boosts the motivation and increases the collective skills within the team.

    In this insightful video, Coyle uses the example of the highly successful NBA team the Spurs, who are under the leadership of their coach feel invigorated and connected. He frequently has conversations with each play that have the following qualities;
    • Produce energy/ energises
    • Individualisation (he speaks their language, is focussed on them as an individual)
    • Is future-orientation. This combination successfully makes them feel strongly connected, like they are a highly valued part of the family. Coyle also notes that “nothing makes you belong more than feeling loved after you screw up.” Leaders who are able to deliver “magical feedback” to people after they fail at something, by reinforcing that they are delivering critical feedback because they care and have high expectations of the person and believe in them, can create a strong team with a bright future. 
  2. It’s safe to speak up here

    When leaders show vulnerability and clearly give the message, it’s ok to be honest here, it allows people to feel psychologically safe to speak up themselves. Again, their mindsets shift from being the fearful guard dog, to being the brave pack animal. Strong cultures share their weaknesses and failures and learn from them in the effort to improve. An example of this is Steve Jobs and how he managed his exec team. He was known to say “Here’s a dopey idea” which conveyed humility and vulnerability and an open invitation for his team to critique his idea, poke holes in it and collectively make it better. 
  3. We have a purpose 

    When people feel and constantly stay connected to purpose, when they are reinforced with meaning for why they do what they do; they are motivated and propelled to work together for the collective good of the team. 

    As Coyle states; “High-performing cultures plant artefacts throughout their environment”. Leaders hoping to achieve this, need to continue sending the message “we have a future, we have a voice” in their language, what they say, how they say it.

    In-fact leaders of high preforming teams tend to state the team’s objective at least 10 times more than what feels ‘necessary’. Coyle uses the example of Danny Myer, the founder of many restaurant chains including Shake Shack has a series of purpose-driven catch phrases that he uses for staff in a visual format to constantly remind employees of their underlying purpose – phrases like “Athletic hospitality” (we run around after our customers) and “Turn up the home dial” (reminding employees to make customers feel relaxed and welcome). Coyle suggests “flooding the zone with vivid narratives like GPS signals, guiding your group toward it’s goal”. 

In summary, it’s simpler than you think to achieve a strong culture in your company; the culture code demystifies what it takes to create an enviable corporate culture – a great read to kick off the new year for all types of leaders! 

How can you be a better leader in 2024? If you and your team want to kick off the year on the right foot, get in touch today, I’d love to help.

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