PuzzleAmong the strangest bits of research I’ve come across has to be Good.co’s recent analysis of the personalities of Google and Apple engineers. The “self-discovery platform” compared the team cultures of each company’s engineers and found that Google’s engineers are somehow both 18.6 percent more competitive and 5.8 percent more collaborative than Apple’s, whereas  Apple’s team is 10.5 percent more tolerant of stress and 7.6 percent more innovative. But the most fascinating — and oddest — finding was that, overall, each company’s team actually fits better with the other company’s culture. That is, “Apple engineers show an average 66% percent fit to Google compared with only 59 percent to Apple, while Google engineers fit 52 percent with Google and 56 percent with Apple.”

Does this mean that we’re all wrong about cultural fit? Does this mean it doesn’t matter as much as we think? Do we have no idea what we’re talking about?

Not exactly. For answers, I turned to Kerry Schofield, co-founder and chief psychometrics officer at Good.co. (Her answers are presented here, with minimal editing for clarity.)

Recruiter.com: Let’s start with a basic question: just how important is cultural fit?

Kerry Schofield: It’s something that we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and looking into, and there’s quite a bit of scientific and empirical research looking into cultural fit. Essentially, in its purest form, cultural fit is just about how well the individual, in their personality or skill set or attitude, fits in with the values and attitudes and requirements of the organization.

When people have a good fit with their organization, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re drones who just go along with the company’s values. They contribute in some way. They might fill a gap in skills or attitudes that is currently missing.

When people have a good cultural fit, they tend to feel a greater sense of ownership and involvement with their job, so it becomes more than something for which they get paid a salary. It becomes something that is part of their own identity; it’s integrated into them. As the empirical research has demonstrated, people become statistically significantly more committed to an organization if they fit with it. They’re less likely to quit. They’re more involved in it. They feel they have a greater sense of control over what they do. They’re happy and more satisfied in their jobs, which [gives them] a greater sense of unity with the organization. 

In practical terms, it saves a vast amount of money for organizations if their employees have good cultural fits, because they’re less likely to unexpectedly leave. They’re more likely to work out, in terms of being good employees, and they’re more likely to be willing to go above and beyond to contribute to the company. 

The employee is happy. The organization is happy. Everybody’s happy. So cultural fit is really quite crucial.

Recruiter: So, Google’s team is better suited for Apple, and vice versa. What do you make of a finding like this? What’s the takeaway?

Schofield: It is quite interesting. We’re doing a lot more research into this … so hopefully we’ll have more answers on this issue in the future.

Based on these initial findings, possibly part of what it comes down to is that these are very specific teams that we’re analyzing within these companies. It’s not necessarily true for the entirety of their employees, but kind of specific groups. These are engineers, in particular. 

Part of it is that there’s no “one way” to fit with an organization. Some people just by their nature are more likely to fit with any organization, because they’re more flexible or adaptable, so they tend to be happy anywhere. So it may be that some companies tend to have employees who are sort of more flexible and generally more contented. So that might explain why some groups fit kind of better with another company than their own, just because they kind of fit anywhere.

It’s a complex relationship, I think, between teams and other teams and how they all fit together to make up a big organization like Apple or Google. Of course, they’re not just one unitary culture: they’re made up of lots and lots of different subcultures, different departments, and different teams. 

Organizational culture isn’t static. It’s a dynamic thing that evolves overtime, which is one of the things that makes it so complex to assess. It’s something that’s constantly moving and evolving as people make their own contributions, and it eventually develops into something over time.

So, the short answer is: it’s a really complicated question.

Recruiter: Given results like these, is there any reason for us to reconsider the way we approach company culture and cultural fit?

Schofield: I think the findings highlight that [culture] is not stable. It’s not like you can do a one-to-one map between somebody’s personality and the organizational culture. It’s more complicated. There are a lot of different factors involved. You’ve got to look at personality, and the type of organization, and the types of teams within the organization, and the department that the team is in, and the type of job that they’re doing. There’s a lot of different dimensions to look at.

I think what our findings are generally demonstrating is that there’s something going on with cultural fit. It does exist. It is a genuine thing that’s really important, but it’s not just about creating a homogenous environment where people just kind of go along with the same attitudes and values. It’s about people contributing via their diversity and their complementary personalities and skills. I think the main take-home message is that it’s not just about similarity; it’s about lots of different factors that all contribute to cultural fit. 

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