February 26th, 2017
A team’s culture is its most valuable asset, especially in a dynamic industry like tech. Values and traditions enable teammates to trust one another as they adapt to growth, looming competitors, and evolving strategies. Particularly for small teams, maintaining a high bar for culture is critical to its long-term success. Unfortunately, a “culture fit” interview usually amounts to taking someone out for lunch (or worse, beers) and seeing if they play nicely with the team.
You are not hiring someone to have lunch with them or to drink with them. You’re hiring them to work with you.
Whether a person is good at small talk does not correlate to whether they’re, for example, willing to fix problems with code they didn’t write themselves. In fact, relying on such a fuzzy culture fit evaluation is a great way to hire people who have similar appearances and backgrounds to those already on the team. Diversity brings creativity, and without rigor in determining culture fit, you won’t hire people who are different.
Articulating your team’s values and incorporating them into your interview loop is the best way to hire people who share your team’s values. At Dropbox, two of our engineering values are “focus on impact” and “own it”, so we have interview questions specifically focused on those topics. At Meebo, we indexed heavily on collaboration and dug deep into candidates’ experiences working with peers, managers, and managees. Whatever your team’s values, make sure that you evaluate how well candidates practice them as part of the interview loop, not informally and open to individual interpretation.
Outside hiring, being explicit about your team’s values allows you to build a more inclusive culture. I’ve been part of several organizations that had an ambiguous adjective that was a thinly-veiled means to play favorites. If your company is called Acme, you might hear something like “that person is really Acme” or “that wasn’t a very Acme thing to do.” It’s not quite clear what “Acme” means as an adjective, so some may wonder if they are indeed “Acme” and whether they belong. Defining values makes it clear what it means to be “Acme”, and no one feels like an outsider for not knowing.