Have you ever wondered what causes a team to be successful? Or, have you ever been a part of a team that failed miserably and you have no idea why? The answer to both of these questions resorts back to one concept: team culture.

“Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they’ll find a way to screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a good team, and they’ll find a way to make it better. The goal needs to be to get the team right, get them moving in the right direction, and get them to see where they are making mistakes and where they are succeeding.”

Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups 

The Culture Code is a book that I read this past spring, which completely changed my perspective on teamwork. Being a junior in college, I have participated in a good number of team projects and have had both good and bad experiences. I had the worst group project experience last fall. We were not successful when working with each other, and all I really knew was that we didn’t communicate well. I placed the blame for our failure on the claim that we all had different work styles and just didn’t fit well together. I didn’t try to evaluate it further because I didn’t think I needed to.

After reading the book, I realized this was not the reason we failed. I was focused on us as individuals instead of the big picture. I looked at our separate skills/personalities and saw how they clashed (which, the individuals I got to work with were great people) instead of looking at the cohesive environment that we were a part of. Now, I can reapproach this situation and look at it this way: what did I do to encourage team culture? Probably not much.

Daniel Coyle lists three things that must occur for a good team culture to exist:

  1. Build safety
  2. Share vulnerability
  3. Establish purpose

Build Safety

Building safety means to create an environment in which everyone can be comfortable. If your team members are afraid of being judged for their thoughts and ideas, they probably won’t speak up. People use belonging cues to initiate connections. These include things such as eye contact and body language.

Here’s an excerpt from You Exec’s summary of the book:

Our unconscious brain is obsessed with sensing danger and craving social approval from superiors. Belonging cues, when repeated, create psychological safety and help the brain shift from fear to connection. On receiving belonging cues, it switches roles and focuses on creating deeper social bonds with the group. This means that belonging happens from outside in, when the brain receives constant signals that signal closeness, safety, and a shared future.

There are many ways to build safety: overdo thank-you’s, ensure everyone has a voice, and encourage team members to share all kinds of feedback.

Share Vulnerability

Team members must be willing to share their weaknesses and create a sense of mutual-need with each other. Doing so creates trust and encourages the team to take risks. Creating and sharing vulnerability is necessary for successful team culture, but it can take some time and effort. Some ways to do so include: being a good listener, admitting when you mess up, making sure everyone knows that it’s okay to mess up, and asking questions.

Establish Purpose

Your team must have an established, common goal that you will work towards and there needs to be a reoccurring reminder of that goal.

Here is an example from You Exec about establishing purpose:

“Ed Catmull, President, and co-founder of Pixar, is one of the most successful creative leaders of all time. For Catmull, every creative project necessarily starts as a disaster. Teams never get the right set of ideas right away.  Building purpose has more to do with building systems that consistently churning out ideas. Creative leadership is getting the team working together, helping them navigate hard choices and see what they are doing right and where they make mistakes.

To do this Catmull created a set of organizational habits. Every movie is put through at least six BrainTrust meetings during development. These meetings are frank and candid, harnessing the ideas of the entire team while maintaining the creative team’s project ownership. As Catmull puts it “All our movies suck at first. The BrainTrust is where we figure out why they suck, and it’s also where they start not to suck.”

These methods are not limited to Pixar alone. When Catmull was asked to lead Walt Disney Animation, a studio several times bigger than Pixar, he was able to recreate the magic. With zero staff turnover, the studio began to generate a string of hits.”

Everyone will be a part of a team at some point in their lives, so understanding how to create a positive team culture would be beneficial.



Start typing and press Enter to search