Daniel Coyle’s book “The Culture Code” is a tremendous look at the secrets of highly successful groups.  He talks about 3 main points in building a successful culture – Safety, Vulnerability and Purpose.

Coyle brings up this simple experiment when talking about creating safety and building a connection.  It consists of two scenarios and a question.

SCENARIO 1: You are standing in the rain at a train station.  A stranger approaches and politely says, “Can I borrow your cellphone?”

SCENARIO 2: You are standing in the rain at a train station.  A stranger approaches and politely says, “I’m so sorry about the rain.  Can I borrow your cellphone?”

QUESTION: To which stranger are you more likely to respond?

At first glance, there’s not a lot of difference between the two scenarios.  Both strangers are making an identical request that involves a significant leap of trust.  Besides, the more important factor here would seem to have less to with them than with you; namely your natural disposition toward handing a valuable possession to a stranger.  All in all, a reasonable person might predict that the two approaches would yield roughly equal response rates.

A reasonable person would be wrong.  When Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Busienss School performed the experiment, she discovered that the second scenario caused the response rate to jump 422 percent.  Those six words – I’m so sorry about the rain – transformed people’s behavior.  They were an unmistakeable signal: This is a safe place to connect.  You hand over your cellphone – and create a connection – without thinking.

“These are massive effects,” says Dr. Gregory Walton of Stanford.  “These are little cutes that signal a relationship, and they totally transform the way people relate, how they feel, and how they behave.”

The first section of Coyle’s book is all about building safety and creating connections in your culture.  His theory is that “group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful overarching idea: We are safe and connected.

How much do we think about this as a coach?  A high-performing culture starts with creating a safe environment, where players are comfortable opening up and giving everything they have.  Emptying the tank for their teammates.  Giving everything you have to something comes with great psychological risk.  But how many of us, as coaches, think about creating safety, an environment that says it’s okay to give everything you have?

Coyle’s book is tremendous and an easy read.

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