20 April 2021 · Absolute IT

Workplace culture has never been more critical in tech. As solutions become more sophisticated, teams are growing and popular methodologies like agile simply rely upon people to get along to make it all work. Bringing in a new team member shouldn’t be a process of finding someone exactly like others in the business – the differences in views and ideas are part of what makes an effective team. However, employers must not make the mistake of employing individuals with a divergence in core values – such as work ethic, purpose, how to treat others etc. Technology is a space with plenty of advanced disciplines with a relatively limited pool of top talent. This can expose employers to making hiring decisions based on project requirements vs. people requirements. It often results in disaster.

Let’s dig into why culture fit can make such a huge difference to a successful tech company.

Creating better tech solutions with open communication

New Zealand workplace culture is much more polite than many other countries, which is a good thing. We place empathy and respect high on our list (generally), and rudeness doesn’t go down well. When a new hire enters a workplace with  personality that goes against the energy of the team, this abrasiveness can quickly shut down communication within the team, even for those who’ve previously had an open, trusting dialogue. Our natural intent in New Zealand is to not create conflict but simply ignore or try and shut out the issue.

Communication is one of the keys to a successful tech product or service. It’s in conversations that we identify and resolve issues, hear new great innovation ideas, and strengthen trust which sees us through times of adversity. A team that shuts down communication is by its very nature a collection of fragmented individuals, who can quickly redirect their focus away from a common goal to a personal agenda like keeping a job or getting a promotion.

Tech’s people-focused direction

Technology is a vehicle to make people’s lives better. There’s simply not a silo of technology and the rest of a business anymore. Technology is core to the operation of most businesses from large enterprises to SMEs and the public sector. No longer does IT mean computer geeks working on things that no one else outside the team understands.

Interactions between people in tech aren’t simply jargon speak or emails- they are creative and critical thinking sessions, collaborations, stakeholder interviews, experiential considerations and frequent meetings to tackle challenges. Hiring for a role without considering the person’s alignment with the business will impact how well these interactions drive positive outcomes for the end user. If a hire doesn’t factor in the human aspects of technology, while the rest of your team does, the issues will become apparent – fast.

Alignment of values and purpose

Let’s talk a little more about values and purpose. These shouldn’t just be dismissed as buzz words. At a very practical level, we can think about values as the basis on which an individual conducts their daily behaviours at work. If their values don’t have significant overlap with your business’, there will be issues. The purpose can easily be distilled down into a question – “why do you work here?”. Without a personal purpose that marries up with the business’ (or represents a clear offshoot of it at least), you run the risk of decision making and motivators pulling that person in a different direction.

The best example of this misalignment is an employee who does a job for the salary only. They have the skills to do their specific job but aren’t bought into the company’s wider vision and purpose – which could be totally unrelated to revenue. Being motivated by money is totally fine, and no one should discredit this factor. But if this is the primary and sole motivator for a person in a business or team, you can expect a combustible situation – soon.

Teams make great products more often than individuals

A good culture allows teams to build trust, collaboration and friendship. A cohesive team of talent will get to the root of technical problems faster and have the combined brainpower to create something much better than any one person could have made. You’ll want to have any person entering the team to complement existing skills, not attempt to overshadow them. Tech teams all get better from working with each other, and we’ve seen many of our candidates upskill quickly after joining talented groups of IT professionals.

The cost of a poor attitude on a business

Ever heard of the concept “Brilliant Jerk”? It’s someone within an organization who possesses plenty of raw talent, but has a personality that is disliked by others. The Brilliant Jerk can be tempting for businesses with a skills shortage in a specialist area, but the risks of bringing in a difficult personality into an existing team are far-reaching. Staff may shut off and cease to contribute. Worse still, some of your best people will just leave the business. All for the benefit of filling your skills shortage with the first qualified candidate you find. Would you rather 5 great people or 1?

In many cases of ‘The Brilliant Jerk’, this purported ‘brilliance’ may be more a presence of an extroverted, A-type approach vs. other subdued but nonetheless talented staff already within your team. But in other situations, they do bring in expertise to the business. It’s important that businesses take the time to understand to what degree this poor attitude is able to be addressed. Most brilliant jerks are good people, and simply have fallen into a role they believe is required to survive. A great workplace culture can pull these individuals out of their belief system, and apply their talent in a positive, collaborative way.

Hiring decisions and how they’re perceived by the rest of the team

A business is under constant scrutiny by its employees, even if they don’t vocalise this. Staff will vote on decisions made by the organisation with their decisions to work harder or disengage, stay for the long haul, or resign early. When a business makes a hiring decision, especially into a role where outwardly there is an existing ‘skills gap’, the employer and manager must take care to onboard this person tactfully into the rest of the team. The combination of a bad culture fit with a clumsy onboarding can send a team into a tailspin.

On the positive side, a smart hiring decision with buy in from the wider team can be incredibly motivating. These hires will find their place within the team, and start adding value early. If a team’s been struggling with the lack of skill or knowledge in an area, and this is introduced via a well aligned new team member, your business is heading in the right direction.

Retaining great people (and why a bad hire can lose them)

Retaining your star employees should be priority #1, before hiring – and that’s a recruitment company saying this. High attrition rates create disjointed projects and results. Having long-standing team members invested in the success of your products or services is highly valuable. Even the most laser-focused of team members rely on a positive workplace culture to deliver exceptional results.

Bringing a poor hire into a team can erode years of trust and loyalty in a matter of months. If unchecked, a business can drain great people, leaving a challenge far larger than the initial skill gap requiring the hire in the first place.

Great teams are diverse.

Workplace culture is an interesting term, because the best technology teams are diverse in people, culture and ideas. Workplace culture serves as a stand in term for a business’ atmosphere or energy. It’s not a matter of finding someone exactly like those already in the team. Hiring for a culture fit is looking for someone with similar values and principles to the rest of a well-functioning team. If a business can continue to derive great values from people who bring new ideas and perspectives, then the business is sure to benefit.

Looking for a change of culture?

Get in touch with our team to discuss your career goals and potential work opportunities in organisations with excellent team environments.

Further reading about workplace culture in tech