The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
By Daniel Coyle
What creates successful group and organizational cultures? That is the question that Daniel Coyle pursues in his book. “Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.” US culture tends to focus on the charismatic, visionary leader yet Coyle’s research finds that successful groups tend to do lots of small things towards success rather than large dramatic things. Three key skills emerge – build safety, share vulnerability and establish purpose. Like Jim Collin’s Good to Great, Coyle finds a lot of quiet, observational leaders who cultivate a healthy ecosystem and group around them through lots of questions at key points to help team members learn to think on their own. There are lots of useful and actionable points in the book. I wish for a future when business books highlight as many women as men in their examples without having women in the title!
Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector
By Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman & Daisy Azer
Design thinking is a problem solving approach that is human centered. It prioritizes really getting to know the people involved in your challenge and looking at the world from their perspective. It focuses on multiple options, experimentation and iteration. This method has served to democratize design and Jeanne Liedtke’s model makes it particularly accessible (What is? What if? What wows? And What works?). While the process originated in Silicon Valley, Liedtke and her team profile how design thinking has been used in the social sector. They include case studies from government, national, state and local nonprofit organizations – from the US and internationally. Each instance showcases the real experience – from the excitement at the start of the project to the dead-ends and false starts to results that in many instances could not have been envisioned from the outset. Using design thinking, the professionals highlighted get to see their organization from the perspective of whom they serve. With this, they are able to identify the ways in which the system is not made for the client. Then they are able to imagine how they might make things better. This is all in the service of having clients have a better and more humane experience while getting the help the organization is designed to deliver. If you have just heard about design thinking and have wondered how it might apply in your situation, this book is a great place to start.
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
By Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
“In most organizations, everyone is doing a second job no one is paying them for…Most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding.” (pg1, An Everyone Culture)
What if this were not necessary? An Everyone Culture describes a few unicorn organizations that have truly put people at the center of their purpose. Developing and investing in people. Not as an afterthought or bonus for just for a few people – for everyone. Where the culture revolves around helping everyone recognize, acknowledge and learn from their mistakes, build on their strengths and stretch and grow. Lots of organizations give lip service to the idea that people are their most important asset. Yet they rarely act as if that were really true. Each of the three organizations the authors describe as deliberately developmental organizations (DDO) do this through a multitude of practices that center transparency, regular feedback across all levels, team building and professional development – at the individual, team and organizational level. While the authors went into their research assuming that being a DDO would contribute to the business success of these organizations, they concluded by the end that in fact being a DDO is the cause of the business’ success. Much has been written about how emotional intelligence and people skills will be the key differentiators as work continues to morph and shift. Learn from these leaders what that might look like.
Here are three books to consider adding to your list:
The Art of Community: Seven Principals for Belonging by Charles H. Vogl
I was intrigued by the book’s subtitle since I am someone who moved a number of times over the course of my growing up. I spent a lot of time chasing that illusive sense of belonging. With the traditional forms of community breaking down and loneliness on the rise, more people are in the business of trying to create community. It could be an online community, a community of practice or a co-working space. Vogl describes the essential elements to build community including creating a boundary, initiations, rituals, symbols. While a bit philosophical, I found the book very accessible, enriched by stories illuminating the principals.
Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna
I heard about this book from an interview that I heard on one of my favorite podcasts, On Being with Krista Tippet. Jerry Colonna is Tippet’s executive coach. His insights on what people bring to their work and leadership from what they learned in childhood and their family of origin were fascinating. Colanna considers growing up part of being an authentic leader, especially identifying and letting go of those “ghosts in the machine” that we learned growing up, drive our behavior but no longer serve us as adults. Learning to sit in discomfort, letting go of our illusion of control, and peeling back the façade of “everything is awesome!” I appreciate his insights into the human condition. Yet I was struck by how like too many other business books the stories he included were from people represented a rarified stratosphere of our society of venture capital and start up CEOs.
The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters by Priya Parker
This book was cited in the Art of Community and since a lot of what I do involves group meetings and gatherings, it caught my interest. What I didn't know is that Parker is a facilitator so the book had particular relevance to my work. Yet the book ranges beyond work focused gatherings and includes what makes a good party or ‘happening’ tick. Like I have advised and then forgotten to follow my own advice, a good gathering/meeting needs a clearly defined purpose. She encourages you ‘not to be a chill host’ and to take leadership of your event, why it is so important to pay attention to meaningful beginnings and endings and how to move the conversation beyond the merely polite to healthy controversy. Whether you would like to make your next get together more meaningful or have an big work gathering to facilitate, you will walk away with a deeper understanding of how to make that happen.
Apparently this summer I am studying the “art” of things – since this shows up in each of these titles.
What’s on your reading list?
I am a big reader and will occasionally share reflections on the books I have recently read.
“Fire is often the best indicator that people care about the issue with which they are struggling” (Dressler, 2010, p. 10). Meeting leaders often shy away from conflict, controversy, emotion or other human items that are not on their neatly organized agenda. Dressler describes how all of these messy parts of human interaction can add to a greater whole if a meeting leader has developed the capacity to hold the moment in order to be able to facilitate the group finding common ground. His book, Standing in the Fire: Leading High-Heat Meetings with Calm, Clarity and Courage, describes how meeting leaders, facilitators and conveners can cultivate greater capacity to regain their balance when surprises knock them off their equilibrium.
Six Ways of Standing
Dressler describes six “ways of standing” that are key to leading high-heat meetings. These include standing with self-awareness; standing in the here and now; standing with an open mind; knowing what you stand for; dancing with surprises; standing with compassion. He then describes ongoing practices to help cultivate one’s capacity to embody these “ways of standing.” These include physical centering, mindfulness meditation, compassion journaling and breathing, affirmations. He describes practices for day of readiness, in the moment practices and culminating practices to leave the meeting behind and harvest the learning from it.
Increasing Your Capacity to Choose Your Reaction
By using mindfulness and reflective practices regularly, meeting conveners can increase their capacity to choose their own reaction to high heat situations during the meetings they lead and participate in. Dressler describes in useful detail the essential elements of being a “nonanxious presence” for a group and how to cultivate that aptitude within yourself. He does not shy away from describing times from his own personal experience when he was emotionally “hooked” or handled a situation with less than grace. He also makes it clear that you do not simply come to the state of being able to embody these “stands” and stay there but rather continue to grow into you capacity to stand in the fire this way. He provides tools for analyzing instances where you are triggered emotionally and to learn from these instances; describes how the brain habitually reacts to stressful situations by escaping into worries about the past or future and how to use attention and stillness to bring yourself back into the here and now; how increasing your open-mindedness includes embodying humility, suspending judgment, and inviting curiosity.
Accessible and Straightforward
The book is very accessible, provides useful examples and lays out in a very thorough and logical fashion how to enhance one’s capacity to create and hold the emotional space for a high-heat meeting. By describing both the ideal and “how we burn ourselves,” Dressler makes the concepts he is discussing straightforward. Dressler’s reflective exercises help bring what he is writing about to life. I would recommend this book to anyone who regularly convenes meetings where important issues are being discussed.
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