“Culture” and “Fit” – They Go Together!

“Culture” and “Fit” – They Go Together!

by Jeanne Knutzen | December 1, 2017

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I know, I know.  Everything you read about “hiring” emphasizes how important it is to select employees who are the “right fit” for your “culture”.  Unfortunately, not all hiring managers know how to describe their culture, or what needs to be considered when selecting employees who “fit”.

If a group’s culture tells us something about how they interact with each other or others  outside their group, it should be fairly simple to observe.   But most leaders describe their culture in aspirational terms, using words intended to inspire others to acquire traits or demonstrate behaviors that match the team’s “cultural norms.”   We’ve also seen situations where managers  use their aspirational definitions to reprimand or take personnel actions against employees who are not in sync with their expectations.

Employees, on the other hand, tend to describe “culture” in more experiential ways – what they actually experience in the work environment – not just what gets talked about.  Some teams earn their cultural stripes by becoming teams who “walk their talk” while others learn to live with big disconnects between walk and talk.

Because the leader’s role to clearly envision and then nurture a healthy team culture is considered a key element of team success, most hiring managers need help to define their culture in terms of how it’s both talked and walked. Knowing both allows us to find candidates who can help them close the behavioral gaps between how “ it is” and how they “want it to be.”

Here are some questions we ask hiring managers when its time to profile the candidate who will be the right “cultural fit”…

What is the team’s MISSION?       

When and why was the team formed?  What is its purpose?  Is its current performance measuring up to its mission? Where does it fall short?

Descriptions of vision and mission are used to formally communicate the team’s purpose.  The team’s culture reflects how team members translate those communications into everyday behaviors.  Teams who have a “strong, well defined” culture are typically made up of individuals who have a clear understanding of the role they play in achieving the team’s mission, and take full responsibility for how they perform it.

What is our team’s purpose? Do the employee’s on your team act in alignment with that mission?  What behaviors or attributes would you like to see in your new employee that will best fit in with the “culture” they are about to experience?

How is “good behavior” defined by team members?  How is it defined by the team’s leadership?    

Apart from purpose, most company’s or teams have a written and/or unwritten code of conduct that provides guidance for how they want their team members to behave – both with each other and with people outside their team.  At PACE, for example, we make a big deal about speaking with each other authentically, avoiding anything that looks like going along to get along.  We also preach the value of learning from each other, staying open and curious about the diversity of ideas and perspectives which help us better understand what’s real. Being authentic, working transparently with both our clients and each other, are our “cultural” norms that we communicate about with each new employee, often before they are hired.

What behaviors are valued most highly in your work environment?  What kind of selection processes do you use to make sure the employee’s you hire will behave in accordance with the team’s values? 

How are team members expected to work together? How does the team define “teamwork’?  

The business world in which most of us work is highly competitive.  In many work environments employees are required to gain advantage over another team member in order to get ahead. In some environments, they have to work collaboratively or lose their place on the team.  Some teams solve problems together; others require individuals to solve problems on their own.  Some teams meet with each other daily; others will go weeks without meeting. .

Ironically, we find that all groups, regardless of their collaborative or non-collaborative style, will talk about how important “teamwork” is to their culture. We think that begs the deeper dive on how teamwork actually works in different types of company environments.

How do people work together or solve problems at your company, and on your team?  When and how are people expected to work collaboratively?   When are team members expected to work competitively? 

How do decisions get made?    

The way in which a team, or its leaders, make decisions has a big impact on the “culture” of a team as well as the decision making skills they need in order to look for prospective candidates.   Do decisions tend to get bumped upwards in a hierarchical fashion, or are individual team members encouraged to make decisions on their own?  What information or analysis is used to make or rationalize decisions?  Is your culture best described as analytical or intuitive? Is it known to be Hierarchical or delegated? And, what happens when someone makes the wrong decision?  How are mistakes dealt with?

Given how decisions are made on your team – what decision making experience should you be looking for in a prospective employee?       

How does your team operate in the face of adversity?  How do they respond to challenges?  

When organizations face change or unexpected challenges, the culture often changes to reveal itself differently compared to when things are “going well”.  For some teams, the fear of failure or extended periods of uncertainty, will trump its focus on people.  For others, adversity sharpens the team’s focus on people, and mobilizes it to make sure each individual excels.

Is your culture changing in response to things going on outside its control?  What pressures will your team face in the near future that might cause a shift in culture?   What kind of employee will be the “right fit” for your current culture?  Where might your culture be heading  in the future?   

How do team members communicate with one another?  How do they communicate with leadership?  

Communication is an overarching set of processes that in total, reveals a lot about a team’s  culture – What information is shared and how?  How is feedback delivered and received?  Who talks to whom about what?  Is information open and available for everyone to review, or are some pieces of information held close to the chest?  How does the team reach outside of themselves for information or ideas?

How would you describe your team’s typical methods of communicating?  How does your team share ideas?  How do they give or receive feedback?  When hiring for the “right fit” what “communication styles”  will work best with  your team?  

How does the team or its employees get recognized for their achievements?   

The way a team, or its team members, earn recognition for a job well done plays a significant role in defining culture. If standards are high and recognition scarce, the culture of the team will not be attractive to employees who need frequent sources of recognition or reward.

What kind of programs are in place to reward the team or its team members for exceptional efforts and/or Results?  Do team members have to compete with each other for rewards, or does everyone get rewarded when the team does well?

How often and in what ways does the team get involved with their community?

One of the ways culture is defined is reflected in the team and/or company’s commitment to the larger community in which they work – how do they get involved with issues or challenges that don’t necessarily impact their business.  Teams who commit time and attention to causes outside of themselves typically have cultures very different from team’s who have a more singular and internal focus.

How often and in what ways does your team get involved in community organizations? How much time does your team spend contributing to causes that don’t directly impact the team’s performance?


This article was written by Jeanne Knutzen Founder and CEO of the PACE Staffing Network a 2017 and 2018 Best of Staffing winner.  We are a certified Woman Owned Business , but that’s just one of many things that makes us different!  What we’re really about is “making a difference” – helping you find the just right talent.   Feel free to contact me directly for a quick connect on any topic related to employment, hiring, staffing, or PACE!  jeannek@pacestaffing.com.  


The PACE Staffing Network has been finding employees for Northwest employers for over 40 years.  Our specialty is finding employees who not only have the skills and work experiences needed to the work, but also the personal attributes and style of working that “fit” the culture of the team’s they join. 

Want to read more about hiring for “fit”…click here. 

Need some help with your next hiring project?   Request our services  here.   



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