Project Practitioners > Determining Cultural Fit

Determining Cultural Fit

By Ann Drinkwater

The time has come. You have started to pursue new endeavors and want to make the right choice. It can seem daunting and change can be tough. While the devil you know can sometimes be better than the devil you don’t, that’s not always the case. Don’t become paralyzed in a situation that doesn’t offer the promise and culture you desire. Culture is the largest component to long-term satisfaction and success.  

1. Company & Team Size: A larger organization often will have more mandates, more elaborate structure, processes and layers. This isn’t always the case, but should be something to consider. The size of the team also has an impact. If you are a technology arm of the business and you are well understaffed, this can mean you will be wearing many hats. This can be good for personal growth, but can be a challenge in scheduling, honoring commitments and making improvements.

2. Level of Standardization: Are there defined processes and methodologies that add value and are they actually followed? Believing in the benefits and need for standards is the first step. If the organization you are considering squirms on this topic or cannot demonstrate their views, this could be a red flag. Also, whether or not these processes are followed is another area of consideration. This may not be as easy to uncover, but at a minimum you could ask to see samples of various project related artifacts. I’ve done this before and the organization usually is understanding, willing to comply and appreciative of the initiative and desire to ensure a mutual fit.

3. Awareness of New Technology & Approaches: If possible, I would highly recommend meeting with the team you will be working with during the interview. I’ve personally been in situations where I have asked to sit beside a team member during the day and observe and ask questions. This is also useful to the hiring organization in getting additional viewpoints and opinions on your fit within their environment. Much can be learned by doing this. You will pick up on how people really interact with one another, motivation levels, obstacles that are present for some very critical reasons and so on. During this shadowing, you can get a sense for the depth of knowledge and abilities of your prospective team. Have they never heard of the concepts and technologies you mention? Or do they quickly respond that those ideas will never work in their organization? If they simply state there is no
value or use, this could be a large indicator of what you would face in your day-to-day work.

4. Openness to Change: Prodding about approval processes and how much leeway employees are given is a good area to determine if you will be able to implement the changes and projects you plan. If the environment is one of command and control and you come from a background of creativity and autonomy, this could be a frustrating endeavor. How does this organization react when risk is identified? This might be tough to gauge beforehand, but risk identification is a necessary and healthy business need. Yes, I said healthy. Many organizations often shoot the messenger and deem the deliverer as a naysayer. While the delivery matters, an open, improvement-focused organization will understand and value this input.

5. Clearly Defined Roles & Responsibilities: This should be a relatively easy topic to broach, since you will likely have a job announcement and detailed description in front of you. If you don’t have a starting point job description or some boundaries and goals for the position, I’m afraid this opens you up to performing any task that you can tackle. This isn’t to say that with detailed descriptions you couldn’t be given similar assignments, it is just less likely you will be pulled astray, as quickly. These description guidelines will help you understand the organizations view of this role. Even for something as established as a project management role, I am often amazed at how many renditions organizations can create. If you wish to run projects, make the calls and adjustments needed and the prospective organization sees a project manager as a gate keeper and scheduler, you may be in trouble.

There is always a right way and wrong way to go about things. If you position yourself properly, most organizations will assist and even appreciate your level of rigor. Especially in the area of technology and project management, I would be skeptical of organizations that didn’t expect this of potential new hires.  

Oftentimes organizations will present a rosy picture in the courting stages. Hopefully some of these tips will help you to uncover what isn’t readily apparent. Culture matters, pay attention to all interactions and listen to your intuition.  

~Ann E. Drinkwater




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