I’ve seen a few articles recently warning of the dangers of hiring for “cultural fit”. Why is this a problem? Isn’t it a good thing to build a cohesive team where everyone gets on? If I hire someone who doesn’t fit in with the team, isn’t this going to upset the team dynamics?
Yes and no.
Of course, you want to make sure that you have a team of people who are going to work effectively together. As a Leader, you have the greatest influence over this. Having a solid business purpose providing meaning that the whole team can align with will create the kind of connection that matters to business success.
You don’t want to let “cultural fit” become a hindrance to diversity. Introducing diversity of thinking by making sure you have a cross section of your community in your business means you’ll be best placed to serve your diverse customer base.
The best teams are ones where individuals are able to contribute something unique to the team. This is based on individual differences, not uniformity. Using the term “cultural fit” as a pseudonym for “people like me” or “people like us” is a pathway to group think, and ultimately poor business performance.
Many studies have shown that diverse teams are smarter, use more facts to analyse information, and are more innovative. In short, they are more successful. A 2018 study by McKinsey and Co found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.
So how do you build diversity and also build a cohesive team?
Presuming you have already found someone with the requisite skills and experience what you need to be looking for is someone who’s values are aligned to the business. This is the true meaning of cultural fit. With a clear idea of the culture you want to foster in your business, and the values you need your team members to demonstrate, you will be well placed to assess your candidate against criteria that will positively contribute to your business.
So, should I choose someone who is like everyone else? Not if you want to get the most out of your team. Should I choose someone who has something unique to contribute, but whose values are clearly aligned with my business? Absolutely.
There will be a cost to a diverse team. Research has shown that taking advantage of diversity to solve problems takes longer and can be harder work. Diverse teams can feel less comfortable, but also deliver better outcomes.
If you’re prepared to put in the extra effort in order to drive the best possible results, you should be aiming for diversity, with aligned values when building your team.
 Harvard Business Review, “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter”, Nov 2016
 McKinsey and Co, “Delivering through diversity”, Jan 2018
 Harvard Business Review, “Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable – and That’s Why They Perform Better” , Sep 2016