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Group culture: one of the most powerful forces on the planet!

Group culture is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. But some are greater than the sum of their parts (Photograph supplied)

“Group culture is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. We sense its presence inside successful businesses, championship teams and thriving families, and we sense when it’s absent or toxic.

“We can measure its impact on the bottom line. (A strong culture increases net income 765 per cent over ten years, according to a Harvard study of more than 200 companies).

“Yet the inner workings of culture remain mysterious. We all want strong culture in our organisations, communities and families. We all know that it works. We just don’t know quite how it works.”

This quote is on the opening pages of The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle — and was provocative enough to entice me to keep reading, as Coyle promises to answer this question: why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?

I have been intrigued by this same question over many years, and I found that Coyle’s efforts to provide answers were not only meaningful, but also provided insight and actions that could be applied to any team aspiring to create a strong culture.

The Culture Code is a study of the lessons learnt from what are considered some of the finest teams across various industries — including the Navy Seals, Pixar Studios and the San Antonio Spurs. Coyle concludes that group culture has more to do with what teams do than with what they are.

He also suggests that a cohesive group culture enables teams to create performance far beyond the sum of individual capabilities. Strong cultures are created by a specific set of skills that can be learnt and practised: build safety, share vulnerability and establish purpose.

Suggested techniques for developing these within our groups and teams follow. Our work at BCI also incorporates many of these concepts in our offerings.

Skill 1: build safety

Building safety requires you to recognise small cues, respond quickly and deliver a targeted signal. This comes with a learning curve and below are some techniques that help:

• Show vulnerability: leaders must expose fallibility and actively invite feedback. This evokes a connection in the listener, who feels, "How can I help"?

• Embrace the messenger: embrace and encourage members who deliver tough feedback or bad news that matters to the team. This creates safety and encourages people to speak the truth fearlessly.

• Preview future connections: this involves showing the team where they are headed by making a connection between now and the future.

• Overdo thank yous: research shows that a thank you from one person makes people behave far more generously to others in the group. Thank you's are belonging cues that create safety, connection and motivation.

• Create collision-rich spaces: collisions, serendipitous personal encounters, are the life of any organisation driving community, creativity and cohesion. Design of spaces should be optimised to create more collisions. Designing for physical proximity creates a whole set of effects including increased connections and a feeling of safety.

• Ensure everyone has a voice: some do this by making a rule that meetings don't end until everyone speaks. Others do this by holding regular open reviews where anyone can pitch in.

• Capitalise on threshold moments: when someone joins a group, their brains are deciding whether to connect. Successful cultures capitalise on these moments to send powerful belonging cues.

Skill 2: share vulnerability

Teams succeed because they are able to combine the skills to form a collective intelligence. The key to doing this is sharing vulnerability. This creates the cohesion and trust necessary for co-operation.

Techniques to share vulnerability.

Building group vulnerability takes time and systematic, repeated effort. These are some techniques that successful teams follow.

• The leader is vulnerable first and often. "I screwed that up" is among the most important things a leader can say. Sharing of vulnerability makes the team feel it's safe to be honest in this group.

• Deliver clear signals: the best teams send repeated signals that set expectations for sharing vulnerability and align language and roles to achieve this.

• Deliver the smallest of negative feedback in person: this avoids misunderstandings and reinforces clarity and connection.

• Focus on two critical moments: the two most critical moments in group formation are the first vulnerability and the first disagreement. The way these moments are handled sets a clear template for either competition or collaboration.

• Practise engaged listening: the best listeners add energy to the conversation by responding actively and asking questions from multiple angles. They avoid the temptation to jump in with suggestions until "a scaffold of thoughtfulness" is established.

• Use flash mentoring: members pick a person they wish to learn from and shadow them for a few hours. This breaks down barriers and builds relationships.

• Make leaders disappear: the best leaders occasionally leave their team alone at crucial moments to enable them to make key decisions themselves.

Skill 3: establish purpose

Purpose does not stem from a mystical inspiration but from creating simple ways to focus attention on the shared goal. High-purpose environments provide clear signals that connect the present moment to a meaningful future goal. Stories are the most powerful tool to deliver mental models that drive behaviour and remind the group about the organisation's purpose.

Techniques to establish purpose:

High-purpose teams are built through navigating challenges together and reaffirming their common purpose.

• Define, rank and overcommunicate priorities: successful teams have a few priorities with group relationship right at the top of the list. Leaders of high-performance groups overcommunicate priorities by painting them on walls, inserting them into speeches and making them a part of everyday language.

• Embrace catchphrases: design catchphrases with action-based clarity that serve as clear reminders of the overarching goal.

• Reinforce purpose with artefacts: successful cultures flood their environments with artefacts that reinforce the core organisational purpose.

• Create bar-setting behaviours: a bar-setting behaviour is one simple task that defines group identity and sets high standards for the group. They help organisations translate abstract values into concrete everyday tasks that embody and celebrate the purpose of the group.

Ultimately, "Culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal. It's not something you are. It's something you do."

To learn more, reach out to gayle@clarity.bm

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Published February 13, 2023 at 7:55 am (Updated February 14, 2023 at 6:33 pm)

Group culture: one of the most powerful forces on the planet!

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