Lessons About Creating Culture from Medical Research

Tuesday, February 16 2021

In his book The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle shares insight into creating successful cultures. In 1998, Harvard researchers followed sixteen American surgical teams as they learned to perform an innovative procedure. The researchers wanted to identify the most successful team and learn what exactly made them exceptional. Some teams were from the big, urban hospitals, had the most experienced surgeons, and access to the latest available technology. Others were from smaller county medical centres, without fancy equipment and renowned doctors.

After six months of measuring the medical teams’ efficiency, patient satisfaction, and rates of post-surgical complications, researchers came to a surprising conclusion: against all odds, a small rural medical centre out performed the larger elite hospitals. In addition, members of that surgical team reported being tired but happy, and proud of their efforts, while the teams from other hospitals described themselves as exhausted and dissatisfied.

Ultimately, the researchers identified five steps that made the winning team successful. There is nothing extraordinary or ground-breaking about these steps; they are simple, straightforward and can be applied in any organization, but maybe simplicity is exactly what we need to build a strong culture in the post-pandemic world.

1. Framing:

Before creating or adjusting culture, the organization needs to clarify its purpose and values, and ensure that most employees are ready to stand behind these values.

2. Clear roles:

Collective responsibility equals no responsibility. Each employee or team needs to know how their contribution supports the common goal, who they can ask for help, and what exactly is expected of them.

3. Consistency:

Buy-in to the idea or goal needs to start with the top executives and goes all the way to every frontline employee. “Walking the talk” and full commitment needs to be constantly demonstrated by leaders and adapted by everyone else.

4. Encouragement to speak up:

It’s great when the efforts are paying off and everything is falling into place as planned. It’s nice but extremely rare. Explicitly asking team members to point out problems the moment they emerge and then to act on fixing them, is the best way to support trust and promote loyalty and high motivation.

5. Active reflection:

The last step is looking back to analyze failures and successes to find the best method. The most successful enterprises are not the ones that never make mistakes, but the ones that learn from them, find new ways of moving forward while staying true to their purpose and values.

Changing the existing culture or building one from the ground up is a long process. If leaders are committed to that process they will increase the company’s chances for success.