Lesson 4.2

The Trouble With Culture Fit

Start this lesson by reviewing the video, then proceeding to the key concepts below:


Key Concepts:


“Culture fit” comes from research from the 1970s–1990s that showed that people are happier working with others who think and act like them.

Unfortunately, for decades, we’ve conflated being content at work with being productive at work or solving problems in innovative ways.

Research clearly shows (and everything we’ve explored in Parts I, II, and III of this course backs up) that the highest-performing teams don’t think and act like each other.

While teams with culture fit tend to have low turnover and high happiness indexes, they have several downsides:

  • On average they are less innovative, constrained by the intelligence and creativity of the leadership of the team, no matter how smart or creative the rest of the team are

  • It’s often harder for them to spot, or speak up about, catastrophic problems before it’s too late

  • People who are in the minority, either demographically, psychographically, or when it comes to perspectives and opinions, often feel worse than in other organizations, and tend to leave at high rates

  • In the short-to-medium term, culture fit-led organizations can do well. But they must adapt if they want to survive long term threats. This adaptation means changing the culture, which is difficult and painful.

You cannot get the benefits of diversity if you insist on people fitting in.

  • Research shows that groups with lots of (both demographic and cognitive) of diversity do not get the benefits if they have strong cultures that encourage similar perspectives, behaviors, and even standards of dress.

  • Research, however, shows that most corporate boards that have demographic diversity (and therefore are likely to have cognitive diversity), make better decisions regardless of how diverse their workforce is.

  • That’s because at the board level, everyone must participate fully. They are able to have productive cognitive friction.

  • But the company only gets those benefits at the board level, and so is constrained by those people who are in that room.

High-performing team cultures rely on Purpose and Rituals to connect their people, and reinforce that people can be and act like their authentic selves so long as they are on board with the group’s purpose. We’re going to explore these in the next several lessons.