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Transforming Group Culture

TXTS4 Leaders List

Transforming Group Culture

Kimberly St Clair

You have probably experienced a time where one person’s actions negatively impacted a group’s culture.  Luckily, one person’s actions can also positively transform a group’s culture and that one person doesn’t even need to be the leader of the group.  Any of your staff members can learn to support a positive group culture that performs well, even in the face of a jerk, downer, or slacker.  This technique is described in an online excerpt of “The Good Apples” chapter from The Culture Code:  The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle (2018).  

In an experimental setting at the University of South Wales, Will Felps noticed a behavior pattern in high performing groups that matched up with research in numerous fields around psychological safety.  When a difficult group member behaves negatively, a positive influencer “reacts instantly with warmth, deflecting the negativity and making a potentially unstable situation feel solid and safe.  Then…[the positive influencer] pivots and asks a simple question that draws the others out, and he listens intently and responds” (Coyle, 2018, p. 5)

This technique models safety and curiosity and makes people feel comfortable in engaging in discussion.  As an example, this technique might sound like:

“I can’t get through teaching 3 small groups of intervention each day.  You’ve seen my class this year.”

“You definitely have a peppy group.  (Laughter.  Leans toward the teacher and gives eye contact.)  It must be hard to meet the needs of all of your kids.  I’m curious whether any of you have had success with small group interventions and what worked for you?”

While we may have leaders and coaches who use this technique, the good news is that anyone can learn and practice this technique.  This could be the end of sitting in meetings having your energy drained or being frustrated by a negative colleague.    

Do you have staff members who might want to learn and practice this technique?  Which team might benefit the most from using this technique?  

Coyle, D. (2018).“The Good Apples.”The Culture Code:The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.Accessed 1/29/2019 from