In re-rereading Dan Coyle’s review of great team cultures, The Culture Code, it struck me that many great cultures boil down to four areas:
The winningest coach in the NBA, Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, connected with his team every chance he got through food, personal caring questions and comments, and looking forward much more than back. Alan Mulally, former CEO of Boeing and Ford says that he spent his leadership time in each organization “Loving them up and holding them to the standard.”
Taking the time to consider before and after a project is a tenet of successful team cultures such as the Navy Seals, and Pixar among many others. Each has a process they go through that focuses on candor delivered in a psychologically safe environment where bias is mitigated as much as possible.
Here are some examples:
AARs. After Action Reviews – A structured review or de-brief process, originally developed by the U.S. Army, to analyze what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better by the participants and those responsible for the project or event.
Braintrust – A pre-movie release process established by Pixar to put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them to identify and solve problems, and encourage them to be candid.
Red team – Brought to the public eye when US President Kennedy adopted this military process to help with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Red Team remained isolated from early decision process stages, tasked with challenging assumptions and recommendations to improve the final decision.
Ensure everyone feels safe to speak up, disagree, propose “off the wall” ideas, and admit ignorance or mistakes. Encourage candor – feedback that is smaller, more targeted, less personal, less judgmental, and equally impactful—it’s easier to maintain a sense of safety and belonging in the group.
Hire well and remember that humans are flawed, unique, motivated, and resilient. Create an environment where you are not necessary to help the team address problems and manifest excellence. Compassion, understanding, and benefit of the doubt are key.
Leaders are deliberate and consistent when it comes to embodying, infusing, and reminding the team of behaviors and actions that will transport the company from where we are to where we want to be. These are often, but not limited to, core purpose, core core values, and objectives.
The combination of these five propel the ordinary to the extraordinary. Creating a culture where the focus is on supporting each other in support of delighting customers guides every team member like a lighthouse in tumultuous seas with limited visibility. The small cues reinforce belonging by reminding the best-led teams that we are all connected, we are safe, and we share a future.
Dave Cooper, Command Master Chief and arguably the most celebrated Navy Seal rated by his own, was asked to name the single trait that his best-performing SEAL teams shared, he said, “The best teams tended to be the ones I wasn’t that involved with, especially when it came to training. They would disappear and not rely on me at all. They were better at figuring out what they needed to do themselves than I could ever be.”
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