Group Culture Is a Powerful Force

As a personal business coach in Houston I have the opportunity to work with teams in corporations. In my personal business coaching in The Woodlands, I get to work with small businesses and the teams within the businesses.

Whether the organization is large or small there is a desire to have good culture. It has been shown in studies that a strong culture can increase income by several hundred percent! We know that a good culture works. We are generally not sure why it works.

But the bigger question is: How do we go about creating it? Like the kindergartners referenced in the last two posts, culture is created by a specific set of interactions. These interactions are based on social skills. In his book, The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle references three keys to building a good culture.

1. Build safety—which through our social signals build bonds of belonging and identity.
2. Share vulnerability—explains how habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.
3. Establish purpose—tells how narratives create shared goals and values.

The three skills work together to create a strong culture. I highly encourage you to read his book. And when you read it, you will learn something new that will add to your personal development and self-improvement. It will also give you a new awareness of how you can contribute as an individual to building a culture within the team or group of which you are a part.

How the Kindergarteners Won

In the previous post I related an experiment that was done to highlight aspects that create a good culture in which teams can be productive. As a self-improvement business coach in the Woodlands one of the areas of focus in corporations and small businesses that I collaborate with has been regarding culture and how culture impacts not only a team’s efficiency but effectiveness.

The kindergarteners in the experiment won against teams of business students. They also carried the experiment to other groups. The kindergarteners defeated lawyers and CEOs. So, what was going on that created this unexpected result?

Let’s start with what we focus on, which is individual skills. If you think about it, individual skills are easy to focus on because they are the most visible. But, when it comes to team performance, it is not individual skills that matter. What matters is the interaction.

Let’s take a look at the business students. As a personal business coach in Houston, I have worked with talented young people. The business students had more talent individually than the kindergartners. But they were not engaged in collaboration, so much as what psychologists call, status management. They were figuring where they fit into the larger picture. Who is in charge? Is it okay to criticize someone’s idea? What are the rules here? Their interactions appear smooth, but their underlying behavior is riddled with inefficiency, hesitation, and subtle competition. As a result of managing status their first efforts collapse and they run out of time.

The kindergarteners, on the other hand, appear to be disorganized on the surface. But when you view them as a single entity, their behavior is efficient and effective. They are not competing for status. They work energetically together. They move quickly, spot problems and offer help. They experiment, take risks, and notice outcomes, which guides them toward effective solutions.

The kindergarteners succeed not because they are smarter but because they work in a smarter way. As we know, and the kindergartners prove it, group culture is a very powerful force.

A Contest to Reveal Culture

In the last post I spoke about some of the foundational components to building a strong culture. It is necessary for people to feel safe and to believe they belong to something bigger than themselves. Also, for a culture to thrive it needs a clear mission, vision and an established purpose.

As a business coach in the Woodlands and as a business coach in Houston, a clear sense of purpose makes the possibilities for growth and advancement of an organization much clearer. Why? With clarity comes pointed and focused action. The individuals and teams who make up the culture have a clear purpose.

Several years ago, a designer and engineer, Peter Skillman, held a competition to find out the following: Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?

To this end he assembled a series of four-person groups at three major universities and a few other places. He challenged each group to build the tallest possible structure using the follow items.

  • Twenty pieces of uncooked spaghetti
  • One yard of transparent tape
  • One yard of string
  • One standard sized marshmallow

The contest had one rule. The marshmallow had to be on the top. The most interesting part, to me, was not so much the task but the teams he assembled. Some of the teams were business students and some were kindergartners.

The business students strategized. The kindergartners had a different approach. They did not strategize, analyze or share experiences. They were too young, not only to strategize, analyze and share experiences. They did not know how to ask questions, propose options or hone ideas. All of which the business students knew how to do. Their entire technique was about how to bunch stuff together.

In dozens of trials around the country and in other parts of the world, the kindergartners won. Their structures averaged twenty-six inches tall, while the business students’ structures ended up averaging less than ten inches in height.

The results may be hard to absorb. Suffice it to say, as a personal development business coach, it was the kindergartners who had the greater personal development and self-improvement. In the next post I will discuss how these results came about. In a word, it is surprising.