Workplace Culture: Will You Fit?

Cole Mayer
workplace culture

In 2016, Millennials listed respectful treatment of all employees as their No.1 reason for job satisfaction at 67 percent of respondents. Job satisfaction was at at 88 percent in 2011; it has since declined to 45 percent. Trust between employees and management ranked at 55 percent, while an immediate supervisor’s respect for an idea weighed in at 49 percent.

Cultural fit correlates to job satisfaction. If you aren’t happy with the workplace culture, you probably aren’t happy with the job. It can even affect the success of the company. MIT lecturer Jim Dougherty wrote for the Harvard Business Review that, “Culture, in my mind, is the single most important attribute to successful companies. Inevitably, when things don’t go well for a company, the culture is what has a lot to say about whether or not you make it.”

Table of Contents

Organizational Models

Before we can look at cultural models for businesses, we need to look at organizational models – the building blocks to cultural models. Let’s explore the five most popular models.


Given the name, it should come as no surprise that roles are not clearly defined in this type of business. Bureaucracy is avoided, and workers simply do what they feel they are best at. This creates a flexible, versatile company, promoting spontaneity and creativity. The downside is that ideas may not fully form, and employees that need direction will be largely aimless.


The opposite of an adhocracy, in a holacracy, power is evenly distributed and clearly defined across various roles. Expectations are crystal clear for employees. There is no true hierarchy – no one is subordinate to anyone else, with meetings determining who will play which role. This, however, is often determined by the company at large, not a manager, as there are no managers.


The best ideas rise to the top like cream on milk. Whether it’s from the brand-new hire or from the CEO who founded the company, the best ideas will be given form. Each new idea is discussed, and the best ones are chosen to move forward. It works better on paper, however, in that employees will still likely lend more credence to longtime workers or the founders.

Clan cultures

Designed to be familial in structure, clan cultures are collaborative rather than competitive. Employers are committed to employees, and consensus on decisions is the driving point behind this model. Critics, meanwhile, argue that this model does not foster creativity or diversity, and overly nurtured employees will not be as productive as employees in a competitive environment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of models. There is the traditional hierarchical model, or the market model – which is directly opposite of a clan culture and fosters competition among employees.

Company Culture Models

Next, we’ll look at common company cultures aside from the traditional suit-and-tie, risk-averse culture that comes to mind when you think of a typical corporation. While those still exist, these other models have started replacing the old cultures.


Clan-culture organization lends itself to team-first cultures, especially if there are teams within the overall clan structure. This culture emphasizes working as a team, thinking as a team, getting the team’s thoughts on ideas to provide feedback, and focusing on the human aspect of employees. Team outings and flexible work times are hallmarks of this type of culture. Employees are encouraged to express themselves, decorating their desks or cubicles. Culture fit is top of the list for hiring a new employee, followed by skills and experience.

This culture is easier to maintain in smaller companies. Hundreds of employees means many teams, which can be unwieldy.

Horizontal culture

Adhocracies and holacracies create horizontal cultures, where everyone contributes to the company. Common among startups and smaller companies, this culture fosters a flexible company, able to changed based on customer feedback and thus keep the customer happy.

The main problem, however, is that not all employees may be clear on who is responsible for which aspect of a project or even the company at large. While each employee may have a clearly designated role, the employees themselves may not know who does what.

Elite culture

In opposition to team-first culture, hiring for an elite culture is all about skill and experience. Expectations could be high; long work hours and pressure to perform are not uncommon. This leads to fast growth and innovative advances in markets, with competition between employers spurring productivity. Elite cultures often find highly-qualified prospects apply for openings – and those with the qualifications will rise through the ranks quickly, with employees making work their top priority over their life away from work.

Burnout is something to keep in mind for an elite culture. Elon Musk expects the stars of his employees – literally – with employees working almost double the hours of a traditional job, and the pressure of gravity – again both literally and figuratively – weighing down on them. But, they are also changing the world and launching rockets.

Culture Fit

So how can you assess a company’s workplace culture to determine if you fit? Let’s look at a couple examples.

  • Some companies simply give guidelines to employees, expecting them to be able to manage, for the most part, on their own – see the elite culture. An employee who wants to be micromanaged or told what to do, such as in a traditional culture, will not fit in with this office culture. The employee will simply not thrive.
  • An employee who works best being able to bounce ideas off others will work better in a team-based setting than one where the employee is expected to work alone all day. Even the arrangement of desks could affect this, making it easier to chat with members of your team about an assignment.

In interviews, 80 percent of employers worldwide cited company cultural fit as the top hiring priority. Someone who has excellent skills but doesn’t fit in will be rejected in favor of someone with a lower skillset but who will fit in better. Prospective employers were more likely to hire someone in the 1980s, when cultural fit became a metric, if the prospect was willing to share a funny story. In other cases, it could come down to the chemistry between interviewer and interviewee.

But what is company culture? How can you determine if you are good fit – before or after a job interview? How can it be used against you in a job interview?

Other Pieces to the Workplace Culture Puzzle

There are smaller aspects that don’t necessarily fit into the sweeping categories above, but still help comprise and affect a company’s culture.

Extracurricular activities

A company may offer after-work activities just for fun, like tickets to a baseball game, especially as a team-building exercise. These are common in clan- and team-based models, and even in elite cultures to prevent burnout. There may be donation drives or volunteer opportunities with local charities or non-profit organizations, to help the community and foster a sense of family in employees. A great question to ask about the culture is whether there is the chance to do good for the community or have fun outside of work, with the help of the company.

The environment

The presence of standing desks or rubber balls replacing chairs can reveal what kind of culture the office cultivates. A cubicle with no decorations speaks volumes about what is expected of workers. Playful art and posters paints a different picture than very little art, or muted colors and subjects.

People and personalities

Possibly the most important aspect, what are the personalities of the people who work there? Everything from their skill sets to behaviors and rituals affect company culture. Lone wolves work better in a different environment that team workers. Social butterflies create a livelier, more welcome workplace than a group of employees who are nose-to-the-grindstone and on-task all day.

Does the Culture Make you Want to Work There?

There’s concepts that contribute to a good workplace culture that you want to look for, or ask about during an interview when applying for a new job.

What’s the turnover rate? Does the company act like a revolving door of new hires, while leadership is stagnant? Or are new hires sticking around, a sign of good company culture?

How do employees learn? Does management provide training for longtime employees to encourage growth? Are mistakes seen as a way to learn and improve? Can you take outside classes?

Does everyone understand their position? Do people know what they are doing, and know how to contribute to the team or company? Or are they a cog in a corporate machine, doing a mindless task?

Do people have fun here? Is it all work, all the time? Do employees have fun at their job, and make jokes with each other? Are employees you can see smiling?

The Interview

It’s very likely that you will be asked questions by the interviewer to determine fit. Here’s a small sample of what you can expect of interviewers trying to gauge your fit.

Off the wall questions

Most famously used by Google, the interviewer could ask a bizarre question. This is to see how you react and think critically. Is your answer to something like, “What do you do with a car full of packing peanuts?” in line with the company’s core values? Do you ask enough questions, or too many, revealing how much you will lean on a team or leader? While this may be a positive for team-based cultures, an elite culture could see too many questions as a negative.


Often, interviewers want diversity in their employees. Do you have a variety of hobbies when you are not at work? And what can those hobbies tell the interviewer about you?


Going back to personality, what personalities do you not mesh well with? If the company is mostly comprised of that type of employee, you may not be a good fit for the company.

Asking the questions

The interviewer might ask you if you have any questions, giving you a chance to refer to the last section. It’s important to have questions here, otherwise the interviewer may assume you have no interest in the company or how you will work with other employees.

With questions to ask and answer, and the meaning behind them, you can gauge for yourself whether a company’s workplace culture is right for you. Look to other employees and even the interviewer to see how you can fit in with the culture – other whether the company, based on your personal values, isn’t right for you, and you would be better suited somewhere else. If, however, the company is a right fit, you could find the employer of your dreams and make fast friends while having fun at work.

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