Assessing company culture

To get started, be clear what culture to learn about. In a large institution, there may be big differences across departments. Cultures also can be moving targets. Large institutions may change with their environment. In start-ups, expect everything to be different a year later.

Be sure to understand the role you’d have, what you could accomplish, and what you’d learn. A strong culture will set people up for success, and you need to be sure that’s in place. In discussing your role, you’ll also get insight into how the place works.

Then, ask questions that point the discussion to how the organisation works. General questions such as “What’s the culture like?” or “Are people treated well?” seldom work. We’ve come up with specific sample questions you can ask as you’re interviewing for a job or talking with others who know the institution. They’re grouped into six topic areas.

1. Purpose

Seek an institution whose purpose you could find inspiring. Consider asking:

  • Is the institution’s purpose being met? What happens if there are gaps?
  • When has the purpose changed a decision? What if purpose conflicts with financials?
  • Who are the heroes?

Form an opinion on whether people are proud of their product or service, and of their institution. Do people use the word “we” when mentioning it?

2. Teamwork

Consider how people work together, especially if you prefer to work in a highly collaborative environment or more independently. Ask:

  • How much do you work with your colleagues? What team accomplishments make you proud?
  • Are there special activities to promote teamwork? Are they voluntary?
  • Are people mostly competing for promotion and credit, or are they selflessly united behind the institution?

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