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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

What the Best Teams Do to Be the Best Teams! 1—They Build Safety

Authored By:

Thinking Collaborative


April 09, 2018

Daniel Coyle in his bestselling book, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, shares three key elements he has found that makes teams highly effective. Coyle professes that the best teams build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose. This week, we will take a look at how teams build safety. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Words, policies, or well-intentioned assurances don’t create safety. Instead, Alex Pentland at MIT says safety is created by sending “belonging cues.” Belonging cues are little behaviors that we rarely pay attention to, but they send a critical message that you are cared about and are respected and valued. Belonging cues include, among other things, “proximity, eye contact, energy, mimicry, turn taking, attention, body language, vocal pitch, consistency of emphasis, and whether everyone talks to everyone else in the group.” Pentland charges that you can predict how well a group is going to perform by looking at belonging cues. Belonging cues are even more reliable at predicting a group’s success than intelligence, leadership, or skill.

Why do belonging cues offer so much when building safety? They trigger the amygdala and “…in a heartbeat, [the amygdala] transforms from a growling guard dog into an energetic guide dog with a single-minded goal: to make sure you stay tightly connected with your people” (Coyle, 2018). The amygdala tunes in and starts to build and sustain social bonds that are required for meaningful engagement.

What are some purposeful actions you might take to build safety in your team? Offer inclusion activities where people feel valued and heard. Take turns speaking. Listen with the intent to understand. Honor the ideas put on the table. Be highly aware of your verbals and nonverbals. Body language speaks volumes.

How might this align with your current thinking? In what ways, does this motivate you to be conscious of your belonging cues in the messages you send to your team?

To read more, buy the book The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle or see bestselling author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker’s blog: “This Is What The Best Teams And Families All Do: 3 Rituals From Research” at

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