The Blindspot When Hiring For Cultural Fit 

Organizational culture. It seems to be the unspoken glue that holds a team and the entire organization together. When we look back on a hire that didn’t work out, most of the time we can point to the fact that they weren’t a good “cultural fit”. Which is all the more reason that we consider “cultural fit” during the hiring process. We wouldn’t want to make that mistake again.

I’ve joined a number of teams in the last few decades but it wasn’t until the last number of years that “culture fit” became such an important criteria. 

A while back I joined a fantastic team. I was looking forward to working with my new boss and admired the direction and strategy of the organization. I was ready to jump in and get things going. But I kept running into a problem….culture. Like most new hires, I wanted to make sure I fit in and I wanted to make a contribution. But every now and again I would make a suggestion or share an idea and confusingly be turned down. The only explanation I would get was “that isn’t us”, “that’s not our culture here”. I appreciated the feedback but it was incomplete. I was getting a better picture of what our culture wasn’t…but no clearer understanding of what it was!

And there lies the frustrating blindspot when hiring for culture fit. It is easy to see its value, but if it is not clearly articulated, it is not all that helpful for you or your new hire.

Understanding your team culture is only valuable if it can be articulated.
— StevenJBarker

“Cultural fit” is a nebulous term if it isn’t clearly articulated. Without that clarification how can the hiring team or the applicant even begin to assess whether or not they will be able to adapt to your church’s core attitudes and behaviors?

You might have an idea of what you’re hiring for, but does your team have the same “cultural fit” expectations? Does your new hire?

Failing to articulate those cultural expectations and six months in you will both be frustrated; you with their inability to “fit in” with the organizational norms and them with the feeling that they doing something wrong, but they just can’t figure out what.

Put another way, if “cultural fit” is something you would fire for, it better be something your hire for.

If cultural fit is something you would fire for, it better be something you fire for.
— StevenJBarker

Spend some time with your lead team answering these questions:

  1. What type of person would thrive in our culture?
  2. What types of companies would our team enjoy working in? What values do those companies have in common with ours?
  3. Why do we like working here?
  4. How would we describe our culture?
  5. What kind of office/work culture do we want to build?
  6. If we plopped any random candidate into our church what would they say is different from other churches they’ve experienced?
    1. Are you decentralized?
    2. Are you hierarchical?
    3. Do you collaborate across departments?
    4. Does each department operate individually?

The more you can articulate about the culture of your team and organization the easier it will be to identify individuals who will likely succeed in your environment. Failing to provide that clarity will create a frustrating experience for anyone new to your team and slow down their progress to the most valuable contribution.



Disclaimer: The value of cultural fit is defined by the senior leader. If this is something they define as important, it needs to be addressed. That being said, organizational culture differences is something that can be worked with. So, decide how important culture is to you before you put in the effort.