The Culture Code

Culture Code

I’ve just finsihed reading The Culture Code, and it was a really good book. Good books are those that either introduces new ideas, or reintroduces known ideas to be relevant.

In this book, he explores what are the cultural values that make up successful team. 3 cultural values were identified, and they are:

  1. Provide Psychological Safety
  2. Embrace Vulnerability
  3. Create Purpose

Psychological Safety


Psychological safety means that person feels safe. Not physically safe (physical safety is assumed to be present, by law), but mentally safe.

Safe to sound out ideas, safe to make mistakes, safe to question assumptions.

By providing a safe environment for the employees to work in, they can perform at their best.

Some actions to provide psychological safety are:

  1. Overcommunicate your listeningLet the person know that his ideas are valued, and he is being listened to. Avoid interrupting the person when he is talking. Seek to understand, and not just listen.
  2. Embrace the messenger

    Bringing bad news is tough, and you should appreciate the person who is willing to do it. Don’t shoot the messenger, he is doing everyone a favour by telling the bad news. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t even tell. By telling, it shows that he cares, so care for him too.

  3. Overdo Thank-Yous

    Let the person know how appreciative you are. Even if you are his leader, thank him for allowing you to coach him. When things are going right, thank the person. When things are going wrong, thank the person. Thank the least significant person. By thanking the person, we let him feel that he is valued.

  4. Eliminate bad apples

    The bad apples lead to the broken window theory. A single person with bad behaviour encourages others to follow suit. Eliminate the bad behaviour, or eliminate the person. No one is to be a dickhead.

  5. Create Safe, Collison rich places

    A collison rich place is one that meetings can happen spontaneously. Serendipity is what they call it. Lunch corner that encourage people to hang out together instead of eating at their desk. Game corners that allow people to have fun together. Physical proximity plays a big part in cooperative behaviour.

  6. Make sure everyone has a voice

    Simple enough. Make sure everyone is able to voice out their opinions. No idea/opinion is a stupid idea/opinion. Whats worse than having bad ideas, is having no ideas.

  7. Avoid the sandwich feedback

    The idea of the sandwich feedback is to lessen the impact of the negative feedback, but thats really full of shit. Separate your feedbacks into two portions, Good feedback, and then Bad feedback. That’s it.

  8. Have fun together

    Duh.

Embrace Vulnerability


We’re all not as smart as we think we are, and the sooner your team realizes that, the quicker they will grow. If everyone acknowledges they suck, everyone will want to learn. If the team constantly exudes the air of false confidence, no one will dare to exhibit fallibility, and that will cause a huge crack in team dynamics

Even if you’re a leader, make your vulnerabilities known (Not personal or character vulnerabilities, but professional ones). Admit to what you don’t know, and your subordinates will respect you more, else they will (and they will), think that you’re an arrogant ass.

Everyone secretly feels vulnerable, and when you show yourself to be vulnerable, this gives an opportunity for them to relate to you. “Oh hey, you don’t know what’s going on too! Let’s learn together!”

Some actions to embrace vulnerability are:

  1. Make sure the leader is the first to be vulnerableOnly when the leader shows that it’s okay to be vulnerable, will his subordinates follow suit. If they leader projects the image that vulnerability is unacceptable, no one would show it.

    3 questions leaders should ask: What should I continue doing, what am I not doing enough, how can I enable you.

  2. Overcommunicate Expectations

    Make sure everyone knows their roles well, and exactly what is expected of them. Only with defined roles can someone identify what their lacking to fulfill those roles and meet those expectations. If someone doesn’t know where he’s going, then he doesn’t what he needs to improve on.

  3. Feedback Feedback Feedback

    Let the team know how well they are doing, how badly they are doing. Use methods such as AARs (After Action Reviews) to elicit feedback, and to give feedback. Sample questions are: What were the intended results, what were the actual results, what caused the results, what will we do same, what will we do different, what have we learnt.

    Feedback should be entirely professional, and never personal.

  4. Embrace the discomfort

    Vulnerability is something personal, and bringing it out to public can be quiet uncomfortable, but entirely necessary. Only by letting everyone know, will there be an opportunity for feedback and growth.

Create Purpose


Create a story for the team to be part of. Create something that is greater than the self, and people would sacrifce themselves for it. If there is no greater purpose and only self interest, the team cannot function optimally.

Some actions to create purpose are:

  1. Be extremely clear about your prioritiesWhat are we about? Where are we headed? Everyone must know about this, and it shoulden’t be enigmatic and unclear. An unclear story leads to unclear actions.
  2. The purpose of proficiency, and the purpose of creativity

    Proficiency is needed for repeatable tasks, Creativity is needed for new tasks. Identify within the group which teams are for proficiency, which teams are for creativity.

  3. Embrace the use of catchphrases

    Even if they sound cheesy, but the work. A company motto that is easy to remember and simple to understand builds an identiy that the teams can assume. “Talk Less, Do More”, “Work Hard, Be Nice”

  4. Use artifacts

    To build a convincing story, you sometimes need physical artifacts to bring out the realism in it. The Navy Seals display the battle gears of KIA operators, Pixar displays their Oscars. Showcase something significant to the company that sets the backdrop for the story.

  5. Focus on barsetting behaviours

    Writing clean code, using source control and other behaviours that are consider best practices. When the team focuses on those behaviours, it becomes part of the identity that the team can assume. “Our team does xxx behaviours!” It’s like a culture of excellence that originates from being part of the team.

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