Cracking the Culture Code with Flawless Execution


Nurturing a strong, high-performing culture is the most difficult challenge a leader faces – and it’s probably a leader’s most important duty. Why? Because the complex challenges of the Twenty-First Century are far too difficult for any single person to solve. It takes a team to find the right solutions and execute them well. Wouldn’t it be great if there were just a few, simple rules for leaders to follow to build great teams? Hold on. Don’t get too excited. Daniel Coyle’s latest book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, is a masterful study of the what makes great teams great. I am absolutely certain that what he says about these teams is spot on. He even boils it all down to three principles. But, don’t expect that those principles break down to a list of simple actions. Coyle convincingly lays out how great teams behave. He even provides some actionable tips. But, he doesn’t provide any clear, repeatable processes.

OK, so that’s a little unfair. That’s because I’m playing “I’ve got a secret.” But, more on that later. The Culture Code is the best book on the subject that I’ve ever read . . . and I’ve read a few! Coyle gets it. He has cracked the code on culture. If you want to understand what makes a great culture, this book is where you should start. Go . . . buy . . . it . . . now!

I recently read a Harvard Business Review article that identified three essential qualities of a great company from the perspective of the individual employee – career, community, and cause. The Culture Code is about those three things but phrased in a different, actionable way – build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.

Building safety means that it’s OK to make mistakes so long as you learn from them. It means that you have a valued place on the team and a future there – a career. People feel safe when they believe they have a future with the organization. They don’t live in fear of failure and being ‘kicked off the team.”

Sharing vulnerability means that everyone accepts that they will make mistakes and when those mistakes are made they are admitted. This is an essential process in building trust which is the foundation of community. You can’t build a high-performing team without trust. “Vulnerability,” writes Coyle, “doesn’t come after trust – it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.” That’s a critical point to understand and, as a leader, take to heart.

Establishing purpose requires teams to clearly articulate their ‘why,’ their purpose in the larger world – What’s the shared goal and why do the members of the team or organization believe it’s important? Coyle shares some engaging stories about how leaders develop and nurture the important connection to purpose that teams need. One that stands out is how Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, takes masterful action to develop all three qualities in his team. Though Coyle doesn’t dig into Popovich’s roots, I think it’s important to point out that he learned the foundation of his leadership skills at the United States Air Force Academy and while serving as captain of the Armed Forces Basketball Team. Popovich’s leadership roots are military.

So, back to my “I’ve got a secret” declaration at the beginning of this review. Flawless Execution helps teams achieve the three qualities Coyle highlights. Vulnerability is achieved through the STEALTH debriefing process. The “T” in STEALTH stands for “Tone”. A leader sets the tone for an honest debrief by admitting his or her own errors before anyone else. That is a powerful display of vulnerability that opens the culture of a team to seek the truth and build trust. It also supports safety because the Stealth process does not seek to blame individuals. Rather it seeks organizational weaknesses that can be addressed through positive action to improve the performance of the team as a whole.

Coyle spells it out very clearly. “Use candor-generating practices like AARs [debriefs], Brain Trusts, and Red Teaming.” Red Teams, part of the Flawless Execution planning process, expose plans and decisions to frank criticism before those plans or decisions are executed. Teams must implement processes, like the Flawless Execution planning process, that require humble vulnerability to determine the right actions. Participating in that process as a team strengthens a team’s sense of safety, all while connecting them to larger goals and purpose.

This is one of the most useful books I’ve read in some time. It connects the processes of Flawless Execution to high-performance cultures . . . and it does it in an engaging and entertaining way.


Reference material: The Culture Code: Unlocking the Secrets to the Most Successful Teams
By: Daniel Coyle