The Culture Code Summary
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The Culture Code Summary and Review | Daniel Coyle

The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

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What’s your workplace culture like? How successful is your team when a task is set before them? 

A good workplace culture is directly correlated to success in the workplace. If you’re trying to build a culture that works, the book The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle might be right up your alley. 

If you want to learn the key insights shared within this book, keep reading for our summary. 

About Daniel Coyle

Daniel Coyle is a New York Times bestselling author. 

He’s written other professional improvement books and self-improvement books such as: 

  • The Talent Code
  • The Little Book of Talent
  • The Secret Race
  • Hardball: A Season in the Projects
  • Lance Armstrong’s War 

Coyle lives in Cleveland, Ohio, during the school year and spends summers in Homer, Alaska, with his wife and children. He currently works as an advisor to the Cleveland Indians. 


Daniel Coyle, the author, posits that as a group, there are three essential skills you need to be a great group. He states that great groups do not happen by chance but are built. 

To put it simply, these three factors are:

  • Build Safety
  • Share Vulnerability
  • Establish Purpose

By building these skills, Coyle states that your group will go beyond ordinary and become great. He looks at great groups throughout history, including the Navy Seals, San Antonio Spurs, and IDEO. 

Within the book, he gives actionable steps that will allow you to build great groups that work.  The Culture Code is broken down into three sections, with supporting chapters. 

Each section supports one of the three skills Coyle claims great groups need to have. 

StoryShot 1: Building Safety 

When groups feel safe, they perform better. In his book, Coyle gives an example of a bad apple. 

This guy joins groups, and soon the other groups begin to mimic his negative behaviors; however, in one group, that doesn’t happen. 

They look closer at what the difference is and find that it is one group member who creates safety. He does this through how he responds to each member. 

This keeps the whole group moving forward and even encourages the “bad apple” to join in and participate. The question then becomes, what behaviors? 

How do you build a sense of safety? Coyle claims this comes down to what he calls “belonging cues.” 

StoryShot 2: Belonging Cues

The book defines belonging cues as behaviors that create safe connections in groups. Some of these behaviors are listed in the book as: 

  • Body language
  • Vocal Pitch
  • Proximity
  • Eye Contact
  • Energy
  • Mimicry
  • Turn-Taking
  • Attention

 These cues are not able to just consist in one moment but must be present during many interactions within the group. Coyle posits that belonging cues have three basic qualities. 

These three qualities together help create a sense of belonging and safety in your group members. 


This is about the people investing in the exchange that is occurring. Is the energy of the person you are interacting with good? 


With this quality, it’s about how people are treated. When you show this quality, you are indicating that the person is unique and valued. 

Future Orientation

Would you feel safe in a relationship that you know could end badly? By having the quality of future orientation, belonging cues signal that it will continue. 

StoryShot 3: Building Belonging

When it comes to building belonging, Coyle discusses how different signals can provide a message to the brain that the group is safe. This message is sent through the interactions and three different types of belonging cues. 

By building belonging, you signal your group members that your group is a safe place. The types of belonging cues are: 

  1. A personal and up-close connection (built through body language and attention) 
  2. Feedback on performance
  3. Perspective on the big picture 

StoryShot 4 Actionable Steps to Build Safety

The Culture Code gives a few actionable steps you can take in order to build belonging and safety. These steps help you turn small moments into moments that build safety. 

We’ll list some of the steps here. 

Overcommunicate Your Listening

Communicating the fact that you’re listening comes down to body language and affirmations. The book discusses the fact that also means not interrupting the person speaking. 

Spotlight Your Fallibility Early On

Coyle discusses the fact that it’s natural to want to hide your weaknesses, but by spotlighting your fallibility, you build invite input. You can do this by using phrases such as “what am I missing,” or “what do you think?” 

Embrace the Messenger

It can be tough to receive feedback at times. Coyle states to build safety; you must thank them for the feedback. 

This keeps the door open for feedback in the future and makes the giver feel safe talking to you. 

Make Sure Everyone Has a Voice

To do this, you must value the whole group’s contribution. This gives everyone a space where they can contribute and feel as if they belong. 

StoryShot 5: Share Vulnerability

Once you build trust, you can then turn that into vulnerability or trusting cooperation. Coyle discusses the fact that when you see a group hit an obstacle, if the group is able to start moving and thinking as one without communication or planning, that’s an example of fluid trusting cooperation. 

He states, that this isn’t all you will see, though. You will also see moments that are awkward, clunky, or come with difficult questions. 

What Is Vulnerability About? 

The book discusses the fact that when most people think about vulnerability, they think about the emotional side of things. 

However, within a group, vulnerability looks a little different. In a group vulnerability is about being okay with having weaknesses and asking for help. 

However, the response of the people within the group you are being vulnerable with is just as important. When you signal vulnerability, it’s necessary that the other person also shows their own vulnerability or fallibility. 

By doing this, trust can increase, and so can closeness within the group. 

StoryShot 6: Actionable Steps to Share Vulnerability

Similarly to building safety, you cannot create vulnerability without taking actionable steps. Coyle discusses actionable steps groups can take to create vulnerability. 

The Leader Needs to Be Vulnerable

Coyle discusses the fact that vulnerability starts with the leader. The leader of the group is the most powerful person within the group. 

When they are able to share and signal their own vulnerability, they can help their team learn this skill. 

Overcommunicate Expectations

It is a fallacy to expect cooperation and vulnerability to just happen. By overcommunicating expectations, you’re able to give the group clear signals of what is expected. 

Face-to-Face for Negative Stuff

It’s much easier to send an email with bad news. However, by communicating anything negative face-to-face, you build vulnerability. 

It helps communicate in a way that is clear and avoids misunderstandings. It also helps to create connections. 

Focus on Two Moments

This actionable step is very important when forming a new group. There are two key moments that are identified in the book, the first vulnerability, and the first disagreement. 

How these moments are handled can help to create the path that your group follows. 

Embrace the Discomfort

Vulnerability can be quite uncomfortable. By embracing the discomfort, you understand that showing vulnerability is not about the pain it causes but about building a better group. 

Make the Leader Disappear Occasionally 

When the leader leaves the group alone at key moments, it creates more cooperation. It does this because the group needs to start interacting with each other. 

They need to draw on each other’s strengths and talk to each other to build a plan. 

StoryShot 7: Establish Purpose

Establishing purpose is it sounds like. What is the purpose of the group, and why does it exist? 

Coyle discusses the fact that purpose isn’t about tapping into something mystical. Instead, it’s about creating simple beacons. 

These beacons are created in order to focus attention and engagement when it comes to the shared goal. Coyle states this is done through building high-purpose environments. 

StoryShot 8: Defining High-Purpose Environments

A high-purpose environment is a place that is full of small but vivid signals that are designed to create a link between now and your future ideal. 

Essentially, it shows two things: 

  1. Where you are now
  2. Where you want to go

This helps create what’s called “mental contrasting.” 

What Is Mental Contrasting?

Mental contrasting is when you think about a goal that is reachable and then think about the obstacles. This helps not only trigger changes in behavior but also in motivation. 

Using this technique within your group helps give your group purpose. They’re able to identify where they want to go and potential obstacles. 

How Do You Build a High-Purpose Environment? 

The book discusses five signals that help members of the team connect with the purpose of the group. The first signal is framing. 

How does the group view the task at hand? Do they view it as one that will benefit their purpose or as just an add-on to existing practices? 

The second signal is roles. In successful teams, the leader clearly communicates the individual’s roles to them and how they are important to the success of the group. 

The third signal is rehearsal. Successful groups practice and prepare for success. 

The fourth signal is explicit encouragement to speak up. In this signal, team members are encouraged by the leader to speak up if they see a problem. 

The leader would then coach them through the feedback process. This helps members of the group speak up. 

The final signal is active reflection. This comes down to the group evaluating their performance. They identify how they can improve in the future during this conversation. 

All of these signals help the members connect with the purpose and build a high-purpose environment. 

StoryShot 9: Actionable Steps to Establish Purpose

Similar to the first two skills, Coyle gives actionable steps. These steps can get used to help build purpose within a group. 

Name and Rank Priorities

Coyle discusses the fact that this is about identifying who the group is and defining its target. Successful groups often place their relationships within the group and how they treat each other at the top of the list. 

They believe that by doing this, everything else will follow. 

Embrace the Use of Catchphrases

Coyle acknowledges the fact that, at times, catchphrases can be cheesy. However, he points out that it is what helps a group function. 

Good catchphrases will be simple, forthright, and action-oriented. 

Measure What Really Matters

Creating measurements that focus on what matters can help to decrease distractions. If you’re measuring things that don’t ultimately matter when it comes to your purpose, it muddies things up. 

Final Summary and Review

In The Culture Code, Coyle essentially walks you through the important parts of building a great group. He claims that to build a group that is great, you must build three essential skills. 

These skills essentially communicate the following to the group: 

  1. You are safe
  2. We share risks here
  3. What this is all for

Coyle gives many actionable steps that help to build each of the three skills. He also gives real-world examples and discusses why they work. 

While some may state that his approach is overly simplistic, he roots his philosophy in real-world groups that work. 

Start Reading Today

If you’re looking for more insight, consider reading the full text of The Culture Code. This book does a great job of discussing the various factors that make groups great. 

Are you looking for more summaries from the best books for self-improvement or the best books for professional improvement? StoryShots is here to help you find what you need. 

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“Vulnerability 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.” 

– Daniel Coyle

“As Dave Cooper says, I screwed that up are the most important words any leader can say.” 

– Daniel Coyle

“Belonging cues are behaviors that create safe connection in groups. They include, among others, proximity, eye contact, energy, mimicry, turn taking, attention, body language, vocal pitch, consistency of emphasis, and whether everyone talks to everyone else in the group.”

– Daniel Coyle

“[Building purpose is…] not as simple as carving a mission statement in granite or encouraging everyone to recite a hymnal of catchphrases. It’s a never-ending process of trying, failing, reflecting and above all learning. High-purpose environments don’t descend on groups from on high; they are dug out of the ground, over and over, as a group navigates it’s problems together and evolves to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world.” 

– Daniel Coyle

“Hire people smarter than you. Fail early, fail often. Listen to everyone’s ideas. Face toward the problems. B-level work is bad for your soul. It’s more important to invest in good people than in good ideas.” 

– Daniel Coyle

What did you learn from this summary of The Culture Code? What was your favorite takeaway? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.

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