The Inside Scoop on Successful Teams with Daniel CoyleOn August 28, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
[Music] I’m ten years old and I’m focused on a really simple question, actually obsessed with a question, how do I get really really really really good at baseball? Good enough to play for (I had thoughtfully narrowed it down to two teams) the St. Louis Cardinals, because they won all the time, and the Cleveland Indians, because they never won. I kept striking out when I got to the high school age, I couldn’t play that well and so I decided, I made a decision, if I couldn’t be a great performer I would study great performers. I grew up to be a journalist and a researcher and my job essentially is to travel the world and look at great performers and see what makes them tick. Look at the science of great performance. I married a girl from Ohio and moved to Cleveland about ten years ago and one day my telephone rang and it was the Cleveland Indians, they finally called and they were in a bad spot they had been, had one of the worst records in baseball the last five years and they were looking to bring in new ideas and they had read some of my work and they said ‘we want to bring you in’ and one thing led to another and I took a position as an advisor to the Cleveland Indians. And then something even more surprising happened, Cleveland started winning. For the last five years we have the best record in the American League. We have spent four hundred million dollars less than our rivals. We’re a small-market team that is adding up to more than the sum of our parts. Being on the front lines and watching that rocket ship take off, watching that transformation sent me on a journey to go around the world and look at great Groups, high performing groups. Groups like Pixar, groups like Navy SEAL Team Six. What is culture? How do we get better at culture? Well, you want to have values, you have leadership, you want to have Trust, you want to have teamwork and integrity and mission and purpose and honesty and integrity and cohesion. All this is in fact true, but it’s useless as a tool. It’s not a good tool. Culture is by far the most important force in our community, in our families, in our organizations and our way of thinking about it is medieval. So I want to give you a new way of thinking about this space and it starts with a group that maybe you’ve already known, maybe you’ve already met these, this group. These are starlings, but this actually captures what it’s like to watch a Navy SEAL team on a mission. This is actually embodies what it’s like to watch Pixar make a movie. This embodies what good groups do; they move at speed, information flowing through the entire group, solving problems in real-time. And the funny thing is starlings have brains as big as a grain of rice, they’re not paying attention to values or mission or Purpose. What they are doing instead is doing the thing that all good groups do – paying keen attention to signals of connection. They’re paying keen attention to signals that share information with each other. They’re sharing accurate information and signals of direction. You are not so different. There’s a deep human grammar of connection that we all are connected to. Not it’s a language, it’s a language not of words but of signals, signals that connect us, signals through which we share information, and signals through which we determine direction. This is the model for thinking about this space of Culture. How do human beings connect? Well, we connect through safety, we build safety when we get a signal of safety, we Connect. How do we share information? How do we share accurate information in Groups? We share vulnerability, we open up to each other and tell each other the Truth. How do we determine direction? How do humans determine what direction their group should go, whether that group is a family, a sports team, an organization or a community? It’s a story, that story tells us what direction to go. This is a functional map of how culture works. There’s a moment in group life where connection either happens or it doesn’t. You’re in a group, everyone’s excited about a project and people buy in, we call that buy-in, because people are literally investing in the group, feeling connected and we know what that feeling feels like, it’s a wonderful feeling. Sometimes it happens in a fake way people seem bought in but then push comes to shove and they’re not quite bought in, they’re not quite there. It’s a really mysterious moment in group life, what makes people feel that connection in their guts? There’s a man named Peter Skillman who’s an engineer who dug into this question and the way he decided to explore that question was through a Contest. Simple contest, it was who could build the tallest tower with the following materials; 20 pieces of raw spaghetti, a yard of tape and a single standard sized marshmallow. Only rule, marshmallow goes on top. He had teams of four, teams of CEOs, teams of lawyers, teams of MBAs, and teams of Kindergartners. Ready, set, go! And all the adult groups start the same way they circle up and they begin to talk. They make a plan and then they improve on that plan, they have more talking, they improve on that plan, then they divide up in roles and then they start to build, and it looks gorgeous. It looks smooth, it looks cooperative, it looks like the embodiment of perfect human cooperation. The kindergartners, not so much. They basically start eating a lot of marshmallows and then they haphazardly start jamming stuff together and taping and it looks like complete chaos, and if you had to bet your life savings which group would win, most of us would pick an adult group, no question, because that’s the way our mental model of group performance works. Our mental model focuses on what we can see and what we see, when we see intelligent, cooperative, experienced individuals working together we assume they will combine into an intelligent group. When we see chaotic children jamming things together we assume it is going to be a chaotic group. There’s tower height in Inches, there are the MBAs (nobody was gonna bet on them anyway), there are the Lawyers, they do a bit better, there are the CEOs, do a bit better, but nobody touches the kindergartens. They win every time and it’s not even close and it seems like an optical illusion and it’s because our mental model does not take into account the two most important factors of group performance; status management and safety. The adults look like they’re cooperating, in fact they are managing status with each other. While they’re talking there’s a whisper in the back of their heads ‘who’s in charge here’, ‘where do I fit in’, ‘is it okay to say that?’. The kindergarteners work together and because they work faster and because they don’t care and they’re not worried about who is in charge they’re able to iterate, ideate and innovate more rapidly. What gives you better feedback than your tower falling down? Perfect feedback, how to fix it, let’s fix it together. Safety is not just some atmospheric feeling, it is the core of good group performance. It is by far the most important factor it makes you Smarter, that moment of connection.