One Bad Apple Can Spoil the Bunch: Why Hiring For Culture is Critical

Doug PowersCulture

Good Culture

Most of us spend as many waking hours with our co-workers as we do our own spouses. Yet we are far more careful about the character and compatibility of a spouse than we are coworkers. Why is that? In fairness, marriage is forever and employment rarely is. We can always choose to find a new job (and managers can fire employees). It’s much more painful to file for divorce. Nonetheless, if our day-to-day emotional happiness relies heavily on those we spend the most time with, shouldn’t we be far more intentional about who we choose to be on our teams?

If you are hiring an accounting clerk who will spend all day in their office (alone) stamping checks, perhaps you can accept more personality risk. After all, it will be easy to avoid someone in such a position. With software development, however, that won’t work.

Most do not realize (or at least acknowledge) that software development is a team sport. As with other team sports such as baseball and football, a single star player does not make a winning team. A star wide receiver still needs an accurate passing quarterback. Likewise, it takes a mix of skills such as product management and web design to build a winning product. For a team like ours that releases multiple times per day, everyone has to execute their positions on the field with precision. As with sports teams, we support one another, we encourage each other, and we help each other out when things don’t go perfectly.

When we consider the alternative, it bewilders the mind why more companies don’t emphasize culture and teamwork more. It’s hard to be on a team with people who are not congenial, that don’t hold the same values as you, and aren’t fun to work with. How do you deal with those at the office that you’re not so “compatible” with? Ignore them? Avoid them? Maybe you engage with a taste of passive aggressiveness? That doesn’t sound like a team I’d want to be on. Yet too many companies try to operate under these exact conditions (perhaps you work for one of them, and if so, you should check out our job postings).

Before you apply, though, check out the chart below. On software teams that don’t exhibit trust, you’ll see behaviors on the left. Whereas on software teams that do exhibit trust, you’ll see behaviors on the right.

Unfortunately, so many companies lack good teamwork, trust, and camaraderie, that the behaviors on the left have become normalized in our professions. I have worked in organizations where senior leaders have boasted of knowing how to “play the game” and “navigate the politics.” In essence, these senior leaders have tactically mastered the maneuvers on the left of the chart to get what they want. Perhaps this was the only way they could succeed in the organization. Regardless, these negative behaviors actually breed mistrust, which exacerbates the negative behaviors!

The behaviors on the right do the opposite, however. They build bonds that last years, increase employee retention, and reduce turnover. Most importantly, they increase commitment to working through conflict. It turns out, if you care for your co-workers then even in moments of extreme frustration, you’ll try to find a way to work it out (just like you do in a marriage).

Trust gallops away like a horse and it crawls back like a baby.


Someone once told me, trust gallops away like a horse and it crawls back like a baby. Realtracs’ biggest risk is that we hire someone that exhibits these negative behaviors. It does not matter whether they believe they are being politically astute or if they have simply never had better behavior modeled for them. We believe the behaviors on the left are toxic to our culture whereas the behaviors on the right will strengthen it. If you’re not careful, one bad apple can sour the bunch.