4 June 2021, 08:24

on culture

I recently finished reading The Culture Code, which was really interesting.

These are my notes:


Working together makes the world go round, Even the best and brightest amongst us need help now and again.

It can be tough to get everyone who is working with eachother to aim at a common goal. Regardless of the environment a dysfunctional group can cause a bad atmosphhere and lead to a number of problems.

This book asks the question,

What makes a team more than the sum of it's parts?

The book gave a number of valuable lessons such as:

  • why a group of children easily beat top CEOs in a simple teamwork exercise
  • what makes us feel safe and why that matters
  • why stories are so effective when it comes to establishing a shared sense of purpose

Weak groups focus on skills and neglect interaction

  • every group has a culture (good or bad)
  • bad culture leads to tense atmospheres
  • this happens when the group is not focused correctly and time is spend figuring out individual positions within the group
  • this means people worry about status
  • which takes away from the bigger goals of the group
  • it also means that people are always wondering whos ideas can be questioned
  • cites marshmallow spaghetti study. build the biggest tower
  • kindergardens usually won (over business grads and lawyers and CEOs).
  • due to better group dynamics, they experimented.
  • they didn't waste time figuring out roles they just got on with it. They cooperated.

Group culture is one of the most powerful forces on the planet

Cultivate a sense of belonging

  • groups perform better if group members feel safe
  • familiarity and connection creates safety
  • study took different teams and gave them a diffcult task
  • they placed a negative person there who would try to bring the project to a stand stilll
  • in most cases the behavior was contagious
  • one group evaded the bad apple by being positive and warm
  • shows that we perform best if we are given belonging cues that bolster our perceptions of safety
  • interaction can dictate outcome

Group performance depends on behaviour that communicates one powerful overarching idea: we are safe and connected

Let people know you are listening and that you are not perfect

  • making others feel safe takes practice
  • let people know they are listened to
  • make eye contact, pay attention to what the person is actually saying
  • do not interrupt the flow of the conversation
  • let people see your wekness
  • admit that you make mistakes (this is especially effectice from leaders).
  • ask for input and feedback on work

Share vulnerabilities

  • sharing vulnerbilities actually boosts group perfromance
  • it builds trust
  • generates a sense of closeness "vulnerability loop"
  • 1989 plane crash where pilot asked for help
  • this action ending up saving the majority of the passengers as three people worked together to land the plane with no engines
  • there is a close connection between admitting vulnerbility and cooperation
  • experiment was done that made participants lose their work after a long computer task
  • those that received help where way more productive later and they had been rescued from a moment of vulnerabiliy

Communicate expectations that people should cooperate and lead the way

  • cooperation should be expected from any team
  • another way of signalling for help
  • it creates an environment which lets people know they are not alone
  • leaders should be the first to admit they need help when they are stuck
  • foster an environment where people want to help and are easily helped when they need it

Establish a common sense of purpose

  • a sense of purpose is a set of beliefs and values underpinning peoples actions
  • it shapes a groups identity
  • provides group with a common stock of ideas
  • high purpose environments have a number of subtle reminders of that purpose
  • let's group know where they are heading, like a bridge with a sign that says "here's where we are, and here's where we are going"
  • communicate common goals like "Customer safety is our number one priority"
  • metaphorical bridges with signs are narratives that the group gets to tell the story of (people enage well with stories)
  • stroytelling is powerful call to action

To build a sense of purpose repeat it

  • don't shy away from corny slogans
  • It's a process not something that happens overnight
  • repeating the mission statement ensures that everyone knows what it is
  • just because a leader knows it doesn't mean everyone else does
  • managers thought 64% of employees knew their the companies top priorities the actual number was 2%.
  • overcommunicate the companies message at regular meetings
  • short snappy catchphrases that get to the point are good at establishing purpose
  • e.g Zappos: "Create fun and a little wierdness", IDEO: "Talk less, do more"
  • Although cheesy they are useful reminders, embrace them!


  • group dynamics determine outcomes
  • when a team focuses its attention on the wrong thing, it loses sight of what's important to performance
  • the best way to achieve sucessful teams is to create a safe environment in which everyone can share their vulnerabilities
  • add a common sense of purpose and this can be equally as powerful

Key takeaway

  • learn how to listen well
  • openess and attention to detail are key
  • which means to not only listen but also showing that you have listened
  • invite others to participate

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