Posts in Category: Innovation

I Love This Book! The Culture Code

Build Your Project Team Culture

The Culture Code Reveals the Power of Safety

“When we talk about courage, we think it’s going against an enemy with a machine gun. The real courage is seeing the truth and speaking the truth to each other.”
         –Dave Cooper, Retired, Commander Master Chief, SEAL Team Six (From The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle)

Why is it so hard to see the truth and speak the truth to each other? Why does that demand courage? And, can any team reach their potential without this ability?

Safety: The Foundation of High Performance

Daniel Coyle, in his new book, The Culture Code, offers three necessary cultural elements of what he calls “highly successful groups.” These elements are safety, vulnerability, and purpose. After reading the first few chapters, I became convinced that safety should be the primary focus for every leader, especially project leaders

I’ve always thought of safety at the office and in my work group as physical safety. Coyle refocused my attention to that of emotional safety. Frankly, I am surprised I haven’t seen it before. I’ve been reading and writing about project team performance for about twenty years. I’ve always known that trust is crucial to creativity and innovation, but Coyle’s angle brought a fresh light on the foundational role of safety. His theme is that for teams to reach their potential, each member must feel safe enough emotionally to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is critical to giving and receiving authentic feedback, which is the only way a group will improve its performance. Feedback within the group is directed toward serving the purpose. Purpose becomes the North Star. That logic is tough to dispute.

Project teams are temporary, formed to accomplish something unique. These teams solve problems and make decisions every day. Versatile’s high-performance team checklist lists nine characteristics that enable a team to survive the “give and take” of creativity and problem solving while maintaining trust and keeping relationships intact. But I have to admit that emotional safety has always been assumed, rather than explicitly called out.

Coyle’s logic, that safety precedes trust and trust precedes authentic feedback and team learning, lays bare the importance of establishing emotional safety within our teams. The quote at the beginning of this article comes from a key story in the SEAL Team Commander’s evolution as a leader. In Cooper’s early career he advised a superior that a particular course of action was dangerous and should be avoided. That superior ignored his  advice and the result was exactly what Cooper had feared. Cooper took away from that experience a desire to be the kind of leader that invited opposing points of view and encouraged criticism from every member of his team.

The Primary Focus of Every Project Leader

Do you want your team to “see the truth and speak the truth to each other”? What could be more important? From creation of a business case and charter, through risk identification, scheduling, and daily problem-solving, your team is making decisions and working through conflicts.  Every day of every project is affected by team culture. Pick up Daniel Coyle’s Culture Code. He illustrates his theme with stories from a wide range of teams and follows up with specific actions for the reader. I predict his lessons will stick with you and reignite your focus on team culture.

Mission: Gender Equality

With Focus, Small Steps Accomplish Big Goals

It has long been a cliché that if you don’t know where you are going any path will take you there. The project management lesson is clear: use the intended benefits of your project as your North Star. This lesson is even more important when the goals are big and the budgets are small. Last summer, one small project demonstrated how a clear focus on mission and goal alignment can generate impacts far beyond its immediate actions.

The gender equality movement has a long history with many accomplishments and yet, clearly, much work remains. In the spring of 2015, graduating college senior Qxhna Titcomb (pronounced CHEE-na) saw an opportunity to take another step forward in support of the movement.

As an accomplished athlete, Qxhna felt keenly the gap between opportunities and accolades that exist for men and women in most sports. Her own sport, Ultimate, long known for its inclusive communities, mixed gender teams, and emphasis on sportsmanship (Spirit of the Game) is exploding in popularity and beginning to show its own gender imbalance tendencies with nascent professional all-male leagues.

Qxhna’s response was to launch the All-Star Ultimate Tour to showcase elite female athletes. College-age women would travel the U.S., playing the top women’s club teams in nine cities over a space of two weeks. What made this project more than just a series of exciting games was the Tour’s mission focus: To promote women in sports and increase the media devoted to female athletes.

An Ultimate Primer

Ultimate was originally known as Ultimate Frisbee. Two teams of seven face off on a football-sized field, attempting to score by catching the disc in their opponent’s end zone. The disc can only be moved by throwing, creating a game with the fast pace of basketball and the big pass plays of football. Today it is played in schools, youth leagues, adult club leagues, and as inter-collegiate club sports. In 2015 it was recognized by the International Olympic Committee. The speed and athleticism of Ultimate make it fun to play and watch.


Click the photo to watch a highlight reel of the All Stars in action!

The Ultimate Culture

A unique aspect of the game is the lack of referees. Ultimate relies on self-officiating. Players on the field make their own calls and if their opponent disagrees, they discuss it and come to an agreement. Self-officiating, a commitment to avoiding contact, and the Spirit of the Game all combine to create an environment that values sportsmanship and respect for opponents. These values are one reason that Qxhna embraces Ultimate as her sport and why she and others view Ultimate as an ideal environment for girls to enjoy competitive sports and learn lessons that apply beyond the playing field.

All-Star Ultimate Tour Goals Feed the Vision

Advancing gender equality is a vast, long-term goal. The Tour is very clear on how it contributes to the larger goal.

  • Staging nine games in sports stadiums across the U.S., in some cases playing under stadium lights, is a showcase for women who have trained hard and earned their place in the spotlight.
  • Club ultimate – the top tier of competition – is played at tournaments. So most teams rarely, if ever, play a home game. In 2015, when the tour came to their town, players could finally have their fans, friends and family in stands watching them play. Supporting the home team builds community.
  • Every game is live streamed, creating a virtual community around each game.
  • The legacy of the tour are recordings of nine high-performance games, recordings that are now being used by coaches at every level of play to teach and inspire women and girls.
  • With a new stage for women athletes comes a new horizon for future players. The girls watching the Tour discover new role models and see greater possibilities for themselves.
  • The Tour has also created a platform for discussing critical questions about how we value male and female athletes differently, and how the media affects these perceptions. Footage from the Tour was the basis of a full-length documentary that examines these questions.

Evaluating the 2015 Project. Setting the Goals for 2016.

When the Tour was conceived in 2015, it was with the belief that showcasing elite women’s ultimate was a step forward in the gender equality movement. Organizing the tour as she finished her final semester of college stretched Qxhna just to put all the pieces together. But she did. Sixteen players and a crew to handle the live streams, including a commentator, made the nine-city trip in three vans. The only success criteria was that it actually happened.

Looking backward, there are some pretty positive metrics: The Tour’s KickStarter campaign reached its initial $35,000 goal in ten days, then raised an additional $10,000. Attendance at the games was so strong that for 2016, the Tour is counting on ticket sales for a major source of their budget.

The scope of impact will be increased in 2016 by adding half-day clinics for girls on game-days in San Francisco and Washington D.C. The clinics will be conducted jointly with Girls Ultimate Movement (G.U.M.). The girls in attendance will be coached by the All-Star players and the local club women’s team. These clinics are an example of the thoughtful attempts to leverage the tour for multiple benefits: as the future players learn, the All-Stars develop their leadership skills and the local elite female players deepen their engagement with their community.

The 2016 Tour is building on the momentum from last summer. Once again, it will be a coast to coast tour, playing the top teams in nine cities. The broader goals of promoting gender equality remain constant. Live game attendance and the volume of views of recordings will continue to be the primary method for evaluating success. When asked about the importance of media attention, Qxhna was clear, “Attendance and media attention are not the purpose of the Tour, they are evidence that the Tour is meeting its goal of promoting gender equality by showcasing female Ultimate.”

Join the All-Star Ultimate Tour!

Everyone can join the excitement by attending the games and watching the game footage. The 2016 Tour runs from July 22nd  to August 10th. Games will be played in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Raleigh, Washington DC and Boston. The schedule and details are here: If you can’t attend the games, support their fundraiser. The fundraising for the 2016 tour will enable the All-Star Ultimate Tour to continue promoting women in ultimate!  

Video courtesy of All-Star Ultimate Tour. Photos courtesy of Steve Helvin.