Book Review: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

In The Culture Code, author Daniel Coyle shares the three main ingredients that make up successful team cultures. They are:

1. Safety/belonging
2. Vulnerability
3. Purpose

When these three ingredients are present in a culture, team chemistry, cohesion, and performance are greatly increased. This is because when team members feel a sense of "psychological safety," they are more likely to give their best effort, take risks, share ideas, be vulnerable, and cooperate with their teammates. Much of the problems of bad team cultures are due to a lack of psychological safety. Without a sense of belonging and safety, team members often feel tense and anxious around each other. They are less likely to take risks, speak up, share ideas, give their best effort, and be vulnerable because they are scared of being judged by their teammates and coaches. Instead of focusing entirely on the mission of their team, they are too worried about status and protecting their egos. The best leaders break down these walls by actively building safety/belonging and sharing vulnerability.

Daniel Coyle gives a great analogy to explain what it takes to improve a team's culture. He says that safety/belonging is the glue that holds a team together. You have to keep applying this glue every day to maintain and strengthen team cohesion. Coyle then compares sharing vulnerability to building a muscle. You have to keep exercising this "humility muscle" every day to help break down the walls of ego and increase cooperation between your team members. Like physical exercise, this can be painful and it takes great discipline, but its always worth it!

However, in order for a team to reach it's potential, building safety/belonging and sharing vulnerability are not enough. You also need to create a strong sense of purpose within your culture to bring out the best in your team members. Great cultures have a shared set of priorities, values, and goals that all team members work towards together. Coyle uses the analogy of a lighthouse. A strong and clear sense of purpose is like a lighthouse that guides you to your destination. It is a vision of success that motivates you to work hard and overcome obstacles every day. The best team leaders are constantly inspiring and guiding their team along the path to success. To do this, they don't just remind them of their goals, but also of the process of reaching their goals. They model clear behaviors and expectations for their members to imitate and follow. In other words, great leaders tell their team members where to go, and how to get there.

One of the best lessons from this book is that building a great team culture doesn't take a great amount of charisma or intelligence. Nor does it take heroic acts of leadership. In actuality, great team cultures are built one small interaction at a time. It is the way you treat your team members every day that makes up the backbone of your team culture. In other words, the foundation of a team culture is relationships. Good relationships that provide a sense of belonging, safety, vulnerability, and purpose lead to good cultures. Most people overlook the importance of these small, subtle interactions between team members, but over time they can greatly impact a team's culture. 

Since team culture is mainly affected by small, daily actions, this means that almost anyone can improve the culture of their team. Like I said, you don't need to be a "natural born leader" to create a good culture. You just need to have the awareness and emotional intelligence to behave in all the small ways that increase belonging, safety, vulnerability, and purpose. However, this doesn't mean this is easy to do. It takes a lot of mental effort to maintain the awareness and social skills needed to improve your team's culture. Like with all goals, it takes daily motivation and discipline to be the best leader you can be.

Lastly, I want to share three practical tips for improving team culture that I learned in this book:

1. Improve your listening skills. One of the best ways to show people that you care about them and that they belong to your team is by listening empathetically to them. You can do this paying great attention while they talk, maintaining good eye contact and body language, asking good questions, and encouraging them to talk more.

2. Humble yourself. As a leader, showing your weaknesses is actually a strength. It takes courage to open up and be vulnerable. And by doing this, you give your team members the courage to to the same. When two people open up and become vulnerable together, their bond grows and they are able to work together better.

3. Talk about your team values often. As a leader, the more you share what's important to you, the more your team values will be ingrained into your culture. People need to be constantly reminded of higher goals or else they'll get distracted and fall back into their selfish tendencies. It can be especially helpful to have a team meeting where you and your team members talk about the team's values, priorities, and goals and rank them in order.

You can learn many more leadership lessons and tips from reading this book. I highly recommend it to all athletes and coaches!


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