In Buenos Aires, on the streets of La Boca, in the shadow of La Bombonera, the phrase ‘El no tiene codigos’ is common. It means ‘he’s got no code’ and it’s the ultimate insult. La Boca is a tough place and here your code – the standards you live by and the promises you make – is valued above all else. It’s what bonds people together in an environment where corruption and crime are easy to find.
Code (in this context) is essentially a definition of the behaviors we expect to see in a group we’re part of. I’ve found that the better a Behavior Code is defined and lived, the more cohesive and collaborative a team becomes. Unfortunately however, many teams only pay lip service to behavior, discussing ‘agreements’ early on and then letting them slide into the background. They are missing a big trick - as without a strong Behavior Code, collaboration and ultimately commercial results will suffer.
One of the most powerful teams I ever worked on was the ?What If! Learning team in London circa 2005. Our leader Chris made sure that we lived and breathed 5 behaviors (Freshness, Bravery, Love, Passion, Action) – we discussed them at every team meeting, they were our primary recruitment lens, we gave each other regular feedback against them, we celebrated (and made legend) stories of us living them… I could go on. As a result, our team was super tight (almost cult-like actually) and extremely high performing, and it’s not surprising that everyone of that era has gone on to recreate their own version of the group.
Behavior Code is one rung down from Values. Values are useful at the corporate level to glue together large organizations, but for teams, code is a more helpful construct because behaviors are more specific and more practically related to how people actually work and interact in the day-to-day. Behavior Code can be general, for example high-performing team behaviors, or specialized, for example innovation behaviors.
As an example of Behavior Code, at The Rise Group we’ve worked hard to develop our ‘Lift Code’. It’s a set of behaviors that we try to live by to create an ‘Uplifting Culture’, organized around 4 central pillars – ‘Eat Life With a Big Spoon’, ‘Practice Creativity 365’, ‘Get **It Done’ and ‘Be a Radiator Not a Drain’. It’s a way of bottling our mojo, and it helps us work creatively and collaboratively every day.
One of the behaviors within our Lift Code is ‘Hammer in Pitons', which sits within the Get **it Done pillar. A piton is what a climber hammers in as he climbs a mountain so that if he fails he will only ever fall back to the most recent piton. At Rise we use this behavior when we want to lock in an agreed direction and agree that whatever happens, even if we later fall or disagree, we will only return back to this point in the discussion (i.e. we won’t start from scratch).
Behavior Code unlocks collaboration, and this is extremely important because collaboration is the bridge between culture and commercial results. Code creates trust and common language, which enable collaboration. Collaboration, in turn, allows groups of people to leverage their collective wisdom and resources, which creates commercial results. And commercial results reinforce the value of having a Behavior Code, and hey presto we have a self-strengthening cycle.
So what’s the secret sauce behind Behavior Code? I’ve found 3 guiding principles:
1. Universal Buy In – Everyone needs to understand, accept and embrace the behaviors, with no room for dissenters. The best ways to achieve this are to co-create the code, to pull it out of bright spots (versus out of nowhere) and/or to allow sufficient time for people to absorb and personalize. Universal buy-in is the foundation of code amplification.
2. Connected to a higher purpose – It should be easy to connect the behavior code with your mission as a team. At rise, for example, we know that our Lift Code is the secret to achieving an Uplifting Culture. Everything must be oriented towards why you exist and must make sense in that context, otherwise it will ultimately come unstuck and be lost.
3. Tuned and Lived – Every person can live any behavior so the trick is simply tuning a group to the right set, and then putting in place structures to reinforce and make them routine. Leadership role modeling, public awards and including code as a standing agenda item are some of the most effective ways of making sure that code is lived. Competitive ranking and performance management are not.
Essentially what this all implies is that every team needs a code to glue them together and help them collaborate, innovate and ultimately deliver. So the big message is that if you cannot describe the Behavior Code of your team(s), or know of a team that’s struggling, it’s probably time to take a page out of La Boca.