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Literature of Leadership - September Book Review

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Daniel Coyle (2018)

A critical success factor in implementing complex change at any level—within a unit, across a division, or institution-wide—is building a high performance culture. Bestselling author Daniel Coyle unearths “how ordinary people can create performance well beyond the sum of their parts”. Coyle expertly applies the art of storytelling to profile how eight high-performing groups and leaders from a variety of industries—from Disney, to a professional basketball team, IDEO design, Navy SEALS, and even to a gang of jewel thieves (an interesting choice)—navigated the challenges of achieving excellence in a fast-changing world. According to Coyle, the findings were counter-intuitive. Contrary to customary thinking about group performance, successful groups were not necessarily comprised of individuals who were smarter, more skilled or experienced than less successful groups. Rather, his research revealed that highly successful groups placed greater focus on creating fertile ground for effective interaction. Accordingly, the book is organized around three thematic “skills” for doing so including: (1) Build Safety to create a sense of belonging, (2) Share Vulnerability to build trust and cooperation, and (3) Establish Purpose to consistently reinforce common goals toward a desired future state. Each section of the book begins with an exploration of how each skill works, followed by examples drawn from Coyle’s research on what worked (and in some cases did not work), and then concrete suggestions for how to effectively apply these skills in a group setting. While the principles advanced for fostering a high performance group culture are not considered by this reviewer to be extraordinary in nature, the thematic principles are well substantiated, the tips are practical, and the book is well-written and an overall enjoyable and easy read.