You’re doing the job. You’re delivering what you were supposed to. Despite all of that goodness, you don’t feel like you belong. Maybe it’s not one thing in particular or maybe it is a couple of glaring things, none of which seem monumental. You just continue to know that you don’t fit and you can’t put your finger on it. Could this be a problem with a cultural fit?

Very likely. When we start a job there is a period of time when you are too new to really fit in. You’re learning the job and the entire structure. All new people are expected to miss a few beats while they’re ramping up. You don’t know the people, you don’t know the silent “how-to’s” that exist in all organizations and, therefore, we all collectively wait until some period of time for the newbie dust to settle. Once a certain amount of time has gone by, we all expect deliverables to start occurring routinely and for all people to figure out what to expect from each other. Sometimes, that moment never arrives.

To really understand the issue with a cultural fit, you need to understand a bit about cultures.

Culture is essentially the way a group of people interact with one another, which includes beliefs, communication style, customs and an array of attitudes. This helps all the people of that group communicate and get things done in an efficient, productive way as it frames up a level of understanding and expectation about one another. All groups form cultures ranging from families to church groups to work places. Certainly countries have their own unique culture.

There are groups where you know ahead of time that you won’t belong. If you were to visit a third-world country, you would mostly expect to be an observer. Even if you stayed long term, you would adapt some elements into your daily way of doing things, but you most likely would still be an outsider. It sometimes happens when we become romantically attached to someone. We meet the family of our intended, but never actually form any real bond or connection. Hopefully, you see how the cultural fit issue works. It can happen anytime you join into a group of people or form a new group, like starting a new family.
When you are facing a cultural fit in the workplace, it can sometimes be subtle and difficult to identify. Other times it’s obvious.

Are there things you can do to identify this issue when you’re searching for a job?

Unless you are a great student of behavior, it can be difficult to pick up on. You have to understand some of the cultural elements that work for you or don’t work for you. Then, if you’re lucky, you can find enough people to talk to about a company or work group to give you some insight.

For example: I know I don’t like organizations where the people are less than swift and straight forward in communicating, especially the tough messages. In some organizations, they avoid direct conversations like this and often relegate the responsibility to someone else. Worse, they email rather than discuss directly. Is that something I could discover during job search? Maybe.

Here are a few reasons why this is so hard to detect:

1. You have to be aware of cultural behaviors that do and don’t work for you.
2. You may not find someone who is really that observant to share what they know.
3. There may be cultural behaviors you are unaware of that you don’t yet know to look for.

This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do your due diligence in your job search, but it may be challenging to unearth properly.
Are there things you can do once you have identified you are a cultural misfit at work?

Again, this requires a person to be self observant and reflective. That task isn’t easy for most people. Nor is it easy to find another person who will be both candid with their input to you and observant enough to identify the issues. If you can observe a few of the most successful people in the organization and analyze their behavior, you may be able to identify some behaviors you can adapt. This requires real drive and tenacity. With effort, it can be done.

Depending on your analysis of the situation, you may discover that the divide is too great to close. In that event, the best decision is to leave. When you aren’t a cultural fit, your ability to grow your career will be limited and your overall enjoyment of your career will be stifled. It’s an unfortunate situation to be in. It is not a reflection on your adequacy as a person or performer. It’s simply that you belong somewhere else.
Cultural fit is important to consider throughout your entire career. It will either support or stifle your growth. If your career is stalled out, you may want to think through this issue to see if it is a contributor.

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