Daniel Coyle

The Culture Code

Daniel Coyle

In a nutshell

The Culture Code reveals secrets of some of the best teams in the world – from Pixar to Google to US Navy SEALs – explaining the three skills such groups have mastered in order to build a meaningful and productive culture. It is an essential step-by-step guidebook for individuals, groups and companies that want to build effective and happy teams based on safety, vulnerability and purpose.


Daniel Coyle's book The Culture Code front cover



Build safety

Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, whilst others add up to be less? We tend to think that the success of the group culture is a trait like DNA, but Daniel Coyle suggests it is created by a specific set of three skills – safety, vulnerability, purpose.

The proto-language that humans use to form a safe connection is made up of belonging cues. They are behaviours that create safe connection – for example physical proximity, eye contact, mimicry, body language, vocal pitch,… Belonging cues seek to notify our vigilant brains that they can stop worrying by creating a sense of psychological safety. In order to maintain it, belonging cues have to be reinforced over and over again.

Highly successful cultures are not always happy, light hearted places. At their core, members are less oriented around achieving happiness together and more around solving problems together. That includes many moments of high-candour feedback and uncomfortable truth-telling. Great performance feedback should reinforce belonging, the expectation of collective high standards and a confidence in the ability to achieve them.

Share vulnerability

Once a successful group has built belonging, it needs to translate connection into trusting cooperation. Clunky, awkward moments full of hard questions and tension are moments when people can come together.

We intuitively know that vulnerability tends to spark cooperation and trust. It is a model of behaviour that allows the group to set aside their insecurities, trust and help each other. If there is no vulnerable moment, people will try to cover up their insecurities and weaknesses and each task will become a manifestation of those. To create a safe environment where vulnerability can be shared, leaders need to be vulnerable first and often.

Establish purpose

High-purpose environments are filled with small, vivid signals designed to create a link between the present moment and a future ideal. Those signals say here is where we are and here is where we want to go. Purpose is about creating beacons that focus attention and engagement on the shared goal. Successful cultures do this by relentlessly seeking ways to tell and retell their story. They understand that stories play an important part in creating our reality. Stories deliver mental models that drive behaviour by triggering cascades of perception and motivation.


Three things to take away


Belonging cues are the building blocks of safety, identity and trust in a group.


Sharing vulnerability, instead of hiding our insecurities, is a way to build connection and cooperation.


Purpose is best structured and shared through storytelling that shifts our attention on the common goal.


Who should read this book?

The Culture Code is an invaluable resource for those looking to clearly define their creative and proficient priorities, as well as overall purpose. It is a great resource for anyone who is working in a group environment, however big or small. Diving deep into three skills, which tap into the power of our social brains in order to create meaningful interactions, will be helpful for specific stumbling blocks that groups may be facing when it comes to cooperation and cohesion.


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Daniel Coyle, Random House Business, 2016