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17160 Stephen Kalyta: The Hive-Mind: Building Powerful Cultures

“Offer a hand rather than isolating them further”

Article by 17160 Stephen Kalyta

In the twelve job changes I have experienced since leaving the military, I have seen first hand the power of corporate cultures to either build or destroy lives. According to Dan Coyle in the Culture Code, it is far easier to achieve the latter than the former. I would agree that in my collective experience I saw the consequences of a bad culture radically affect people’s health, financial well-being, and interpersonal relationships.

It turns out there is a hive-mind that powerful cultures achieve that allows them to succeed where so many other organizations fail. Success can be measured, too, as a Harvard study proved that over a 10 year period, income rose 765% in groups demonstrating a positive culture. In a military context, this hive-mind is compared by the author to the Navy Seals. As one of the most dangerous careers in the world, one can readily accept that a strong culture of belonging would rank high in this sub-culture. Like fingers joined to the same hand, the sinew that binds them is the safety that is derived in knowing what the “finger” beside you is doing and how it works in collaboration with you. The indoctrination process of achieving full Navy Seal status is the mechanics underpinning its powerful culture. The similarities between the Navy Seal indoctrination process and FYOP, or graduating from RMC are comparable at a cultural level as an identified organization.

The primary building block for building a positive culture, according to Coyle is safety. The lack of job security in the civilian world would explain why this critical ingredient to building powerful cultures is rarely achieved. However, in the military, “job safety” is less of a threat, however, personal physical safety is not guaranteed. Coyle identifies three essential belonging cues under which the hive-mind forms and teams outperform:

1) the energy invested in the exchange
2) valuing individuals, and
3) signaling that the relationship will sustain in the future

The antithesis to powerful cultures then could be the “anti-block” called isolation. If a team member is isolated from the hive either through self-intent, neglect by the peer group or outside threat, the result can be highly destructive for the individual as well as the team. In the corporate world, I have seen highly competent, contributing team members falter, resulting in the team turning on them like a virus.

In parallel with my previous article, 10,000 Hands, promoting isolation at an individual level when experiencing it at a corporate level is a recipe for disaster. Coyle’s work clearly shows that an outside threat can be endured if within the team safety is expected even if it cannot be assured. That is where the domain of Hope lies. If you believe your brothers and sisters have your back, you will feel safe. So when you see someone struggle, offer a hand rather than isolating them further. In that way, you contribute a building block toward a successful culture that will pay far more than just economic dividends.


  • Dave Rudnicki

    April 8, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Well said Stephen, sometimes just telling someone you have their back gives them what they need to get over their challenge and gives them clarity of focus. TDV

  • Graham Keene 10700

    April 9, 2019 at 10:08 am

    I have been out of the military now for 28 year having spent this time as the owner of a Canadian Tire franchise of some 120 personnel. The retail environment attracts workers typically of a lower than average socio-economic environment. Mostly great people but with unique struggles that extend beyond financial issues but caused mainly by financial issues. I have found over the years that a sense of belonging works wonders for most where self-esteem and confidence are the big inhibitors. The pay scale in retail for most is modest so salary is not what keeps them here. We have been successful in forming a family culture where we cover each other’s back regardless of whether the issues are business or personal. As a family unit we talk to each other about our problems and always offer a helping hand. The initiatives are many but usually cost the business nothing other than some time and compassion. We also share our business success with our members but giving profit sharing whereby they do better when the company does better. I am not sure that the extra money is the big deal or that each member now has some real skin in the game.
    All people want to feel that they belong, offer some value and that someone cares. In the mega world of big business I fear that this basic principle is eroding in favour of false efficiency and profits. We have all learned well the benefits of a team effort in the military and as officers we have cared passionately for our “family”. We lead into some of the most difficult environments with surprising success. Civilians are really no different. There is much to be learned from our backgrounds and success.

  • Stephen Kalyta

    April 9, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks Dave! Graham, that is a great Canadian success/ business story we can learn from. I have recently built with my RMC co-founder a group of international and talented executives whombfollow the same ethos you highlighted, which sadly is rare to non-existant in Big Corporate.