Release year: 2018

Author: Daniel Coyle

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Link to my handwritten notes


I had The Culture Code on my reading list for a long time, and I’m glad I finally got to it. If anything, it reinforced my belief that individual skills, although important, are not what really matters. What matters is the interaction between people who possess individual skills.

The concept from the book that stuck most with me was “belonging cues”. They are the little things we do in conversation that communicate to each other, “You are safe here.” Everyone has their own style and their own cues, and this allowed me to look inwards and reflect about how I communicate with people that I appreciate they take the time to share their thoughts with me. From the exterior, you could observe it as looking in each others' eyes, adopting a listening stance, laughing loudly, making fist bumps, etc. However, these cues can vary wildly, and probably depend on which people are speaking together. When added together, these cues create chemistry, which is probably a synonym for safety.

According to the author, a group with good chemistry will typically fill its members with a sensation of excitement and deep comfort. I think I have been in such groups before, and I agree. This is the type of group within which you feel anything is possible. I would be willing to bet that in a competitive environment, this is the type of group who would go the furthest.

Learning about belonging cues was an “Aha!” moment for me, because I think it is an important, elusive ingredient of psychological safety. For example, when you look at someone, how long does it take you to guess if this person is relaxed, happy, or stressed, angry? Typically, this is information that our brain can process very quickly, and so belonging cues are not something you can plan and strategize about. At best, you can be aware of when you stumbled upon one.

The belonging cues are just the start, and the book explores various successful cultures in many different spheres of life. By the end of the book, the author writes, “It’s possible for groups to solve extremely complex problems using a few rules of thumb.” I think that creating healthy work cultures is one of the most complex problems of our generation, and I like to believe that the author is right: given the right rules of thumb (awareness of belonging cues, owning mistakes, self-concordance, …), the group can get there naturally, just like the sailboat pushed to land by the right tailwind.

Félix rating:

⭐ Star quotes

  1. (p. 70) What mattered most in creating a successful team had less to do with intelligence and experience and more to do with where the desks were located.
  2. (p. 81) Deciding who’s in & who’s out is the most powerful signal any group sends.
  3. (p. 122) Everything is done as a group. There is no greater sin than losing track of someone.
  4. (p. 127) Tamp down selfish instincts that might make you the center of attention
  5. (p. 141) The most important four words any leader can say: “I screwed that up.”
  6. (p. 145) Being bulnerable together is the only way a team can become invulnerable.
  7. (p. 151) Discovery has to do with asking the right question the right way.
  8. (p. 159) As a leader, ask your people 3 questions:
    1. What is one thing that I currently do that you’d like me to continue to do?
    2. What is one thing that I don’t currently do frequently enough that you think I should do more often?
    3. What can I do to make you more effective?
  9. (p. 161) Two critical moments happen early in a group’s life: the first vulnerability and the first disagreement. These are doorways to two possible group paths: Are we about appearing strong or about exploring the landscape together? Are we about winning interactions or about learning together?
  10. (p. 166) Creting habits of vulnerability requires a group to endure two discomforts: emotional pain and a sense of inefficiency.
  11. (p. 193) One of the best measures of any group’s culture is its learning velocity: how quickly it improves its performance of a new skill.
  12. (p. 211) We assume that because we’re complex, that the way we make desisions must also be complex. It’s possible for groups to solve extremely complex problems using a few rules of thumb.
  13. (p. 212) The road to success is paved with mistakes well-handled.