Adding a team member is one of the most important decisions you can make as a leader. You don’t want to move to fast on this one. That person you are thinking of bringing on board can make or break your team. There are various factors to consider–do the fit the culture of the organization and the current team? Justin Anderson shares some helpful thoughts on taking a long look at “Culture Fit” when making this all important decision.

Guest Post by Justin Anderson, US Vice President with Acts 29

If you are in a leadership position at work, there is likely no more important element to your job than to build the right team. Whether you are a Lead Pastor, President of a company or non-profit, or Headmaster of a school, there are very few things more important than choosing the people you will work with. This is a big reason why Context Staffing exists in the first place. Finding team members who fit your culture and can do excellent work that pushes your organization to the next level is extremely difficult but couldn’t be more important. Most of us have felt the pain of hiring the wrong person or inheriting a bad employee. It kills momentum and, sometimes, your will to live.

We are in the middle of a multi-week series on finding the ideal staff members. Some of you may be tempted to skip this series because you aren’t currently looking for staff but I’d warn against that even if you aren’t currently trying to hire. The truth is that you should always be assessing your team and always thinking about who your next hire might be. Having a clear picture of the kinds of staff members that you are looking for is a critical part of the hiring process. If you don’t know who you are looking for precisely, you will end up with whoever is nearby.

This week, we are talking about Cultural Fit. Of all the things you are looking for in a potential hire, this is the hardest to discern but, in my opinion, the most important category of all. The majority of hires that go wrong, do so because you hired someone who isn’t a good cultural fit for your team.

Choosing a candidate based on their resume, demographics, and skills (the three things we’ve covered in this series) is much easier because it’s far more objective. Either the candidate has done the job or they haven’t, they are either the right demographic fit or they aren’t, they have either demonstrated the necessary skills for the job, or they haven’t. Now, whether or not they have done all that to the degree of excellence you are looking for does require some subjectivity, but cultural fit is 100% subjective. That being said, I really don’t think there is anything more important than finding the right cultural fit for your team. Every single one of the bad hires I’ve made has been bad for cultural reasons, not productivity ones. Fit is crucial because it makes or breaks the culture of your team. I’ve been in enough of these bad situations, that now I simply refuse to work with people I don’t like being around. Ministry is too hard to do it alongside people who drive you crazy.

That may sound selfish – and maybe it is – but I wholeheartedly believe it’s the right choice. The big question is, how do you find out if someone is the right cultural fit? It’s very simple, spend a lot of time with them. I know what you’re thinking, “that’s not always possible!” You’re right, it’s not always possible to spend a lot of time with a candidate, but you can always prioritize spending as much time as you possibly can with them and do so in as many different environments as possible. That’s the other thing, it’s not just time, it’s also context. This is going to look a little different based on your industry. Most of my experience has been as a local church Lead Pastor, which is a very different kind of leadership context than my current role as a non-profit leader. In local churches, staff members work very closely together, and in most scenarios, there is an expectation of relationship between staff members that far exceeds those of for-profit businesses or even non-profits.

A church staff works very closely together and tends to interact outside of office hours to a much greater degree. This means that the need for cultural fit goes beyond the office and into the restaurant, bar, and even the home. This is where it gets tough.  Finding team members who can work well together AND socialize well is a tall order. Add in the need for wives and other family members to relate well together and you start to see the challenge we face.

Here is my advice; spend as much time as you can with potential hires during the hiring process in the office, in meetings, and at lunch. Take them to a baseball game and a party, if you drink, drink with them, if you work out, work out with them. See them in as many different situations as you can and then be honest with yourself, do you like them? Did you look forward to hanging out with them? Were they fun and engaging? Did they listen well and ask good questions? We can all put up with someone we don’t love in the short term, but it will wear on you in the long term. Just don’t do it. Don’t settle for someone who can do the job but you don’t enjoy being with. I’ll be honest, I’d rather hire someone with less experience, fewer skills, or the wrong demographics than have team members who aren’t a good cultural fit. Prioritize cultural fit and you will thank me later.