The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

Author: Daniel Coyle

Reasons to read:

  • To gain insight into some of the world’s most successful professional groups / teams.
  • To understand how to lead a successful team.
  • To learn specific traits of successful teams.

Key notes:

  • Most successful teams describe themselves as family.
  • Common features of successful teams are: standing close, lots of short and high energy conversations, regular physical contact such as fist bumps, handshakes and hugs.
  • Team performance is driven by five measurable factors (findings from Alex Pentland’s study):
  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, not just with the team leader.
  4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations with the team.
  5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside of the team, and bring information back to share with the others.
  • Good leaders are open about their weaknesses and invite their teams to support them.
  • To create safety, leaders need to actively invite input.
  • Be painstaking when hiring new team members. Some companies, such as Zappos, offer trainees a $2000 bonus if they quit (about 10% accept the offer). All of this builds safety and belonging within the team.
  • Avoid giving ‘sandwich feedback’ (positive, negative, positive) as people tend to focus entirely on one or the other. Instead, focus on negatives through learning-focused two-way dialogue and focus on positives through ultra clear bursts of recognition and praise.
  • High proficiency environments help a group deliver a well-defined, reliable performance.
  • High creativity environments help a group to create something new.


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