Culture Fit vs Culture Add

If you spend any time giving interviews (or much time going through the interview process, honestly), you’ll probably start to hear people talking about “culture fit.” The amount of people that obsess over the concept boggles the mind.

And it’s the wrong thing to do. In fact, it can be actively harmful to not only the person interviewing for the position, but even the company they’re interviewing at.

“Culture fit” as it’s practiced in a lot of places leads to one of two things:

  • An unintentional monoculture where everyone looks, thinks and acts the same
  • A thinly veiled reason to discriminate against people (which, in turn, leads to a monoculture where everyone looks, thinks and acts the same, only it’s done on purpose)

If you think I’m blowing the discrimination part of things out of proportion, ask a Black person how many times they’ve heard that they “weren’t a good fit” for a role that they were extremely qualified for. Or, if you’re in the mood to hear me rant, ask me why I grew a beard and how I literally started getting offers consistently within a few weeks.

Yes, the people on your team need to work well together. That’s a given. That doesn’t mean that they need to “fit” into your current culture. In fact, maybe your current culture is toxic or otherwise sucks and it’s holding you back.

Don’t hire for Culture Fit. Hire for Culture Add.

Looking for what someone can add to the culture of the team actively works against forming a monoculture because you are explicitly looking for someone who doesn’t think like everyone else on the team and probably has a vastly different background.

I’ve interviewed a lot of people over the course of my career. My basic checklist is as follows:

  • Do I think they can do the job (or grow into it in a reasonable amount of time)?
  • Are they an asshole? (the answer to this should probably be no)
  • Do I think they can get along with the team, clients, etc fairly well?
  • What would them working with us add to the team that we don’t already have or don’t have enough of?
  • What problems would adding them cause? (This is mostly so I can make myself aware of potential issues within my existing team and is a way to be aware of possible pre-existing biases)

Seriously. That’s probably 95% of what I’m gauging when I give an interview. All of the questions I ask; all of the time I spend actively listening to what’s going on in the interview; all of it – it’s all to answer at least one of the above questions.

I don’t want a team full of people that look, talk, act, and think like me. Are you kidding? That sounds like hell on earth – not to mention practically impossible given the demographics that I fall into.

A team full of clones of me would drive me nuts and would cause me to stagnate because I wouldn’t be introduced to new things in an organic manner nearly as often. It’s not that I’m a bad person. It’s that I know that I have the habit of following things down rabbit holes unless I catch myself doing it. I like being around people who are different from me because it gives me the chance to look at things from different angles.

Could I use an extra “me” around once in a while? Sure. But a team or company full of copies of me would be like the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean where Jack Sparrow is in Davey Jones‘ Locker and the entire crew of the ship is copies of him.

I have strengths, but I also have weaknesses and I realize it. So do you. Having a diverse team helps the team be stronger because where one person is weak, another member of the team may be strong.

Monocultures don’t get that benefit (or at least not to nearly the same extent) and both the members of the team and the company suffer for it.

Don’t believe me? Look at the motion activated faucets that don’t work well for people with darker skin, products that aren’t accessible to people with disabilities, facial recognition software for photographs that crop the image to lighter colored faces, etc. All of these things (and more) could be mitigated by having a more diverse group of people working on the products in question.

Diversity isn’t a checklist activity. It’s something that makes us all stronger. Throw culture fit out the window and go for culture add. You’ll be better off.

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