Book Review: The Culture Code

Published Categorized as Non-Fiction Review Tagged

“I’m giv­ing you these com­ments because I have very high expec­ta­tions and I know you can reach them.” This line comes from The Cul­ture Code: The Secrets of High­ly Suc­cess­ful Groups by Daniel Coyle,  book rec­om­mend­ed to me by an entre­pre­neur friend.

This book describes Coyle’s man­age­ment the­o­ry that groups per­form well when they have a group cul­ture that fos­ters high per­for­mance. What type of cul­ture does that? One that makes peo­ple feel safe and social­ly con­nect­ed, and that focus­es their ener­gies on a shared pur­pose rather than on get­ting and main­tain­ing their desired social posi­tion. Now, I do not think of myself as some­one who expends much time on social climb­ing, but Coyle makes a con­vinc­ing case that because humans are inher­ent­ly social and attuned to dan­ger, we uncon­scious­ly align much of our behav­ior to stay con­nect­ed with the social order. He makes a case that this con­stant strug­gle for social align­ment dis­tracts from and even out­right sab­o­tages col­lab­o­ra­tive work.

Most of the book is tak­en up by ideas and exam­ples of how a leader can cre­ate a high-per­form­ing cul­ture. Fur­ther, Coyle sug­gests two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of his man­age­ment the­o­ry, one for groups that need to achieve high pro­fi­cien­cy in more-or-less repet­i­tive tasks, the oth­er for groups that need to achieve high cre­ativ­i­ty. Both ver­sions of his the­o­ry could be applied in lead­ing a legal team.

Rather than sum­ma­rize Coyle’s advice, I rec­om­mend that you find this book through your local library, inde­pen­dent book­shop, or favorite ebook retail­er. Coyle’s the­o­ry pro­vides a lot of food for thought.

It was inter­est­ing to dis­cov­er this book was pub­lished as recent­ly as 2017, because some of Coyle’s exam­ples of high-per­form­ing teams (with what we might think of as “good” group cul­ture) include Pixar and Google, com­pa­nies that are now known to be places where peo­ple have expe­ri­enced harass­ment and have felt dis­tinct­ly unsafe on the basis of their gen­der or race. This lacu­na on high-per­form­ing teams that harass “out­siders” with­in their own ranks does not under­mine Coyle’s over­all man­age­ment the­o­ry, in my opin­ion, but rather it begs the ques­tion of how to inte­grate anti-harass­ment val­ues with­in the group cul­ture. An impor­tant ques­tion for anoth­er day.


Book review pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished in the Novem­ber 2020 issue of the Los Ange­les Para­le­gal Reporter, vol 48, issue 11. 

Re-pub­lished on leesalazar.com in 2021 and back­dat­ed accordingly.