Highly Successful Groups’ Playbook

New England Patriots
1980 Men’s Olympic Hockey Team
Golden State Warriors
US Navy Seals
UCLA Bruins under John Wooden

All of these organizations have one thing in common – Great Team Cultures.  In his latest book, Culture Code, Dan Coyle connects the dots around how to build and nurture a great culture.  Coyle researched some of the best cultures around the globe in many different domains and found three main skills they all had in common that I go into more depth below.  Also, when observing how these organizations interacted, here is what he noticed:

  • Close physical proximity, often in circles
  • Profuse amounts of eye contact
  • Physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs)
  • Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)
  • High levels of mixing; everyone talks to everyone
  • Few interruptions
  • Lots of questions
  • Intensive, active listening
  • Humor, laughter
  • Small, attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors, etc.)

He deftly describes three skills that each of these great cultures had developed.  I talk a lot about these three items when I work with my coaching clients and during my Vistage talks. They are:

1.  Build Safety— signals of connection – generate bonds of belonging and identity.  Here is a great question to test if you have built safety into your organization.“How confident are you that you won’t receive retaliation or criticism if you admit an error or make a mistake?”

Why should this be important to you?  When employees feel safe, they are much more likely to be actively engaged (and inspired) in the business which translates to higher productivity and creativity.

According to Paul Krugman’s research from an HBR article of last year, An inspired employee is more than twice as productive as a satisfied employee and more than three times as productive as a dissatisfied employee.  Yet, only one in eight employees is inspired and more than half are dissatisfied.

2.  Share Vulnerability— Developing habits of mutual risk drives trusting cooperation.

Unfortunately, you hired human beings.  Human beings are inherently flawed. They make mistakes. They sometimes do not know exactly the right thing to do or say, get tired, get hungry, etc.  When leaders share vulnerability by saying “I’m sorry” or admitting they need a little help or in any way that shows their team and organization that they too are human, it gives permission to others to do the same. If you are working in an organization that is growing, there are myriad opportunities to screw up and show that you are human.  Letting your team know through your own shared vulnerability that it is okay and that you and the other team members have each other’s backs are critical factors in building a strong and winning culture.

3.  Establish Purpose— Telling stories creates shared goals and values.

People want a compelling reason to get out of bed each morning and go to work.  People want to be part of something larger than themselves.

If you do not have a Core Purpose, create one. If you have one, repeat it every day, recognize and reward it when it is demonstrated. Celebrate and live your Core Purpose every day. Tell stories about how someone demonstrated the Core Purpose and/or Values.  Be specific with the details; name names. Doing this regularly over time will act as a magnet for potential customers and employees. It also acts as an immune system to toxic and disengaged employees.

Quick personal story

I had lunch with a CEO the other day who shared a story of how a long time, highly productive but tremendously toxic salesperson finally left the organization. The CEO and his leadership team were loath to fire him even though almost everyone did not like working with him.  They were afraid of the impact on the business’ top line.  He finally left as the new culture did not fit his style.

Time has passed, the business has survived and is actually thriving due to this culture shift.  One of the main reasons this salesperson left was that he was not getting his way anymore.  The new management team reinforced their values and culture which acted as an “immune system” for toxic employees like this salesperson.

Here are some suggestions to begin this transformation in your company:

  1. If not established, create and publish your core purpose and set of core values
  2. Keep them alive every day by “catching people doing something right”
  3. Use them in all aspects of the people side of the business – attracting, interviewing, onboarding, growing and exiting employees
  4. Demonstrate the three skills above when running your meetings and interacting with all employees

For further info on this topic, please find another useful HBR article – How to Create a Growth Culture, Not a Performance Obsessed One.

Please contact me if you want to learn more about how to hire the right people, put them in the right jobs doing the right things and scaling your organization.

Be Exceptional!

Bill  – Certified Premium Scaling Up/Gravitas Impact Coach


* Ask me how MA (and other states) may help pay for my leadership coaching services.  For MA companies, as an approved Training and Development provider, Catalyst Growth Advisors can offer you 50% off program fees.  Click here to see if you qualify.

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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