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How to use culture interviews to build a better team

Sharon Florentine | Aug. 14, 2015
Companies ranging from big names like Pinterest to small startups are conducting culture interviews at every level to help build cohesive teams that click. Here's how to do it right while avoiding pitfalls and common mistakes.

using culture interviews to build a better team

Determining how well a job candidate will mesh with an existing team's culture is one of the great challenges businesses face when recruiting and hiring talent. Some organizations, like Pinterest and customer experience software provider SPLICE software, address the issue by performing "culture interviews" to ensure their hires' strengths and attributes will positively impact team dynamics.

"It's something every great sports team understands. It's not just important for one member to be great, it's about how teams support, inspire and connect with each other that really leads to success," says Tara Kelly, SPLICE's CEO.

How it's done

How does SPLICE do it? Kelly says that with three offices in geographically distant cities -- one in Calgary, one in Toronto and one in Chicago -- it's critical that it's handled efficiently so no one's time is wasted, but that it's thorough enough that candidates are well-vetted. "These interviews always are done in person, and we ask three people from each office; nine total. We created a spreadsheet that includes all our core values and our mission. Each person gets to come up with questions they feel will uncover how the candidate's values and mission align with ours," Kelly says.

Then, the general process works something like this: the interviewers' impressions are recorded on the spreadsheet. After the interview, scores and impressions are tallied up and used along with information on skills, experience and knowledge as a basis to make hiring decisions.

Kelly and her team have tweaked the process along the way. For example, she says there used to be a standard set of culture questions asked at interviews, but those ushered in a whole new problem that had to be addressed. "We used to use a standard set of questions like, 'Tell me something you're really proud of,' or 'Tell me something you're really good at,' but what we realized is that neither our interviewers or the candidates had room there to be authentic. They were reading from a script, working so hard to ask the 'perfect' question, and that led the candidate to work too hard to come up with the 'perfect' answer -- they weren't being honest," Kelly says.

How to gauge responses

Now, SPLICE lets interviewers come up with their own questions that can help them get to the heart of a candidate's values, work ethic, teamwork skills and communication skills. "One of our core values as a company is 'We believe it can be better.' So, an interviewer asks something like, 'How have you made something better?' and that could mean they started a food drive for the homeless in their community. Or, they did a recruitment drive for their gardening club. Or, they reworked the parent volunteer schedule for their son's kindergarten class -- it's not so much about what the answer is, it's about being open to change and being open to driving that change personally," Kelly says.

 

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