The hidden ways organizational culture can impact your career
A few years ago when I was working in a high energy, informal, friendly, and fun team, I could count on everyone to work well together--with one exception. One of the women was extremely structured, highly conforming, protective of her private time, and confrontational. She had been hired when we were worried about having enough hands on deck to get all of the work done, but her presence contrasted starkly to everyone in our workgroup and anyone who interfaced with us. We came to understand this situation as “not a good fit,” and it created misery on all sides.

If you can understand the “default culture” in a team and the default style of the individual, making sense of issues around fit becomes much easier. One way to use this information is in a job search: you may want to find a culture that fits you so a sense of belonging is relatively quick and painless.

First, consider these dimensions of personality. Along which end of each spectrum would you place yourself in terms of preference?

1. Flexible/Informal---------------------------------------Stable/Structured
2. Self-Promoting/Influential--------------------------Analyzing/Conscientious
3. Dominant/Different------------------------------Conforming/Easygoing
4. Driven/Controlling------------------------------------Supporting/Steady

Take a moment to map where you think you might fall along each of the four ranges. If you already have results of a DISC assessment, High “D” is Dominant/ Different, High “I” is Self-Promoting/ Influential, High S is Supporting/ Steady, and High C is Analyzing/ Conscientious.

The woman I described above was likely:
1. Flexible/Informal---------------------------------|------Stable/Structured
2. Promoting/Influential-------------------------|-Analyzing/Conscientious
3. Dominant/Different--|----------------------------Conforming/Easygoing
4. Driven/Controlling------------|------------------------Supporting/Steady

Each of these ranges corresponds to organizational-culture dimensions, with different language. Here’s how they might look at a corporate or team level:

1. Flexibility/Discretion-------------------------------------Stability/Control
2. Adaptability/Adhocracy------------------------Consistency/Hierarchy
3. External/Differentiated ------------------------------Internal/Integrated
4. Mission/Market-----------------------------------------Involvement/Clan

Flexibility/Discretion: The organization focuses on its ability to change with circumstances or market forces and empower its workforce. Organizations like Zappos have made headlines with their managerless structures and expectation of adapting quickly to environmental changes. (Corresponds with “Flexibility/Informal.”)

Stability/Control: The organization focuses on its commitment to strategic direction and internal reliability. The people who work here must be on the same page. (Corresponds with “Stable/Structured.”)

Adaptability/Adhocracy: Chiefly tuned in to the changes in the marketplace and taking action to adapt. Dynamic, creative, and open to risk. (Corresponds with “Promoting/Influential”)

Consistency/Hierarchy: A formalized work environment with high role definition and replicated practices/procedures. Normal in customer service businesses that pride themselves on consistency for customers no matter the geographic region. (Corresponds with “Analyzing/Conscientious.”)

External/Differentiated: Goal-oriented learning organizations that differentiate themselves from their competition in the marketplace and drive excellence in their processes and products. (Corresponds with “Dominant/Different.”)

Internal/Integrated: Focused on developing personnel--both leadership and the rank-and-file. Quality of teamwork and the values they share are paramount. (Corresponds with “Conforming/Easygoing.”)

Mission/Market: Executing the action plan that creates bottom-line results and move the organization toward realizing its goals. Corporations focus on stockholder value. (Corresponds with “Driven/Controlling.”)

Involvement/Clan: Commitment to the organization is most valued. Employees are “members of the family” with a career in the company. (Corresponds with “Supporting/Steady.”)

The workgroup I described at the start of this article fell along these lines:

1. Flexibility/Discretion---------|------------------------------Stability/Control
2. Adaptability/Adhocracy----|----------------------Consistency/Hierarchy
3. External/Differentiated--------------------------|-------Internal/Integrated
4. Mission/Market-----------------------------------|---------Involvement/Clan

Notice that the marks are on the opposite sides for the team as they were for the woman who “didn’t fit” with the group. This was not her fault, and she wasn’t wrong. Other workgroups are much more similar to her, and she would likely have been both comfortable and understood in a mission/market focused group with high stability/control, lots of consistency and hierarchy, and an external/differentiated focus.
If you are changing jobs, do not try to portray yourself as aligned with the culture of an organization just because it interests you. It is far more important to identify organizations that align with your own preferences. While you might not find 100% alignment, you will be far more successful if you focus your search within organizations that share the majority of your preferences.