After several years of doing personal growth work, I started realizing that I wanted to share it with my staff. My thinking was that if we were all on the same page, surely we would be more successful as a team. Well I wasn’t too far off, but little did I know that it was the group culture that needed an overhaul. This is when I picked up Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code.
Daniel Coyle starts the book off by describing an experiment where several different groups are given the challenge of building the highest structure possible using 20 dry spaghetti sticks, a string, and one marshmallow. The only rule was the marshmallow had to end up on top.
The groups consisted of teams of business students, lawyers, CEO’s, and kindergartners. They repeated the challenge several times. Every time they conducted the experiment, the kindergartners built the highest structure.
I know this seems shocking, but what they observed about the kindergartners’ culture and ability to work together was eye-opening.
First, let’s talk about what was not observed in the kindergarten group. There was no competition for status. They had no plan, no strategy, they barely talked, and they stood shoulder-to-shoulder. When they did speak, it was in quick short outburst. The kindergarten culture proved to contain the three main ingredients for success: safety, vulnerability, and a common purpose.
As a leader of a small business, I have found building safety is key to having a well balanced group. When a team member feels safe, it leads to higher engagement and productivity levels.
Listening is a key component when trying to build safety amongst the group. You always want to over demonstrate that you are listening by making eye contact and never interrupting someone. The only time interruption is okay is if you are in a creative session, and it is done out of mutual excitement.
Building a relationship with your staff also exudes a sense of safety. People are more likely to feel safe in an environment where they have shared something personal about themselves. To exercise the act of personal sharing and listening, we occasionally do a group activity in our staff meetings called “Active Listening”.
We break into groups of two. One person is the listener and the other is the talker. The listener asks their partner, “What is something you strongly like about yourself?” Then the partner must talk for three minutes about this topic. During these three minutes, the listener must make eye contact, repeat in his or her head every word the talker has said, and NEVER interrupt. By repeating every word in your head, you are staying focused instead of letting your thoughts drift to your own story or interrupting the speaker.
One more tip is to overdo the “Thank yous”. “Thank yous” have less to do with thanks and more to do with the relationships. Small “thank yous” cause people to behave more generously.
Vulnerability takes time like building a muscle. It is something that needs to be done over and over again instead of just a one-time thing. I often ask the team for their input and give credit where credit is due. When a team member suggests a new idea that the team implements, I make sure to give that team member credit for the idea and any success that comes from it.
As a leader I often disappear. The team will share more openly and take more responsibility for the group if a meeting is called and the leader steps out.
Modeling cooperation is also a key factor in sharing vulnerability. One way I do this is by having a bulletin board in my staff room with personal questions on it such as: “Can anyone dog sit this weekend?” or “Does anyone have a good tailor?”. These shared personal challenges help create a vulnerable, safe place.
More often than not when you survey the individuals of a group regarding the group’s main purpose, you will surprisingly get many different answers. The groups’ purpose and priorities need to be well-established and drastically overcommunicated.
As a team, we came up with our USP or Unique Serving Point (a.k.a. our main priority). We put this USP up in our lobby, on our website, on our t-shirts, and on our staff bulletin board. We feel that by putting this up everywhere, not only is our staff reminded of it constantly, but our clients see it as well.
Occasionally in a staff meeting I ask the group, “What are we about, and can you list our top three priorities?”. The answers to these questions give me a good idea of how well I am communicating our purpose.
Group culture is such a powerful factor in any successful business or organization. When a company demonstrates a strong culture, it can increase its income by 765% over a 10-year period. When safety, vulnerability, and purpose are present, trusted cooperation develops. Lastly, when there is trusted cooperation, then the group moves and thinks as one unit.
But above and beyond all these tips…EMBRACE FUN! Laughter is the most fundamental sign of safety and connection.