Uncovering Company Culture: 18 Questions to Assess Team Dynamics
Uncovering the essence of a team’s culture during an interview can be as pivotal as showcasing your skills, so we reached out to top industry professionals, including executive recruiters and VPs of Marketing, for their insight. From asking about culture and management style to discovering unique workplace characteristics, here are the top eighteen questions these experts recommend to truly understand the team you might join.
- Ask About Culture and Management Style
- Inquire About Past Team Interactions
- Learn About Employee Retention Factors
- Gauge Culture Through Enjoyment Inquiry
- Discuss Feedback Practices and Culture
- Find Conflict Resolution Examples
- Seek Honest Culture and Change Insights
- Request Specific Collaboration Examples
- Investigate Team Tenure and Role Changes
- Explore Team Meeting Frequency and Style
- Probe Company Values in Daily Operations
- Uncover Reasons for Termination
- Identify Ideal Cultural Fit or Misfit
- Assess Approach to Development Plans
- Examine Dynamics of Last Team Meeting
- Understand Recognition of High Performers
- Compare Current and Past Team Cultures
- Discover Unique Workplace Characteristics
Ask About Culture and Management Style
I believe in being straightforward and transparent in interviews so both parties leave with a better understanding of key expectations for the role in question.
So if I wanted to know the culture, I’d simply ask, “How would you describe the culture within this department, and could you please describe your management style?” Asking about management style helps you further assess the department culture based on the direct leadership from management. This should also help you decide if a company aligns with your preferences.
Chandra Aiken, Executive Recruiter
Inquire About Past Team Interactions
The one question I have asked every associate before joining my team is, “Who was your favorite/least favorite person you worked with at your last job, and why?” This gives me some great insights on how they work with others and if they would work well with the rest of the team, since I know the culture of the office and what they like/dislike.
It has helped me grow a large marketing team with almost no interpersonal issues over the last five years. The last thing I want to do is lose a valuable team member because they don’t get along with another associate.
Learn About Employee Retention Factors
“Can you share some insights into the factors that contribute to employee retention here, and how the team supports each other’s professional growth?”
Understanding the reasons employees stay provides a glimpse into the team’s cohesion and development opportunities. A low attrition rate may indicate a positive culture and strong support system, ensuring an environment where individuals thrive and contribute long-term.
Gauge Culture Through Enjoyment Inquiry
In an interview, a good question to ask is, “What do you enjoy most about working here?” This lets the interviewer talk about their own experiences and gives you a feel for what the work culture is like.
Also, watch how they act and how the interview feels. If it’s more like a friendly chat than a tough question, that’s usually a good sign. Trust your gut feeling about these little things—they can tell you a lot about what it’s really like to work there.
Kimberley Tyler-Smith, VP of Strategy and Growth, Resume Worded
Discuss Feedback Practices and Culture
I encourage job seekers to ask questions about feedback practices—this can tell you a lot about how a team thinks about culture. One of my favorite questions to ask a hiring manager is: “In the last six months, how have you solicited feedback from your team and taken action on the results?”
Unhealthy work environments lack safe avenues for feedback or struggle with follow-through. They may over-index on raw, immediate feedback or have a passive open-door policy that team members aren’t comfortable with. Trust is often low.
Healthy work environments adopt continuous feedback practices. Leaders regularly ask their employees what’s going well and what could use improvement. They’re also responsive to the feedback they receive and use it to strengthen the culture.
Find Conflict Resolution Examples
This is always a tough one to figure out. Good employees, especially ones on the interview team, will almost always be disciplined enough to keep any potential conflicts or issues in-house and give you a vague answer to your questions about the team’s culture.
One illuminating question that can cut through this a little bit is to ask them about an example of a time when there was a workplace conflict and how it was resolved. The answer to this question can reveal what kinds of conflicts are likely to come up and who takes the lead in resolving them, which can tell you a lot about a company’s culture at the moments when it really matters.
Seek Honest Culture and Change Insights
Two questions that get a good idea of the company culture are “What’s one thing that you would change about the company culture?” and “In your own words, how would you describe the company culture?”
These questions not only give an internal perspective of the company’s dynamics and culture, but also give the interviewer a chance to be honest about the negatives of working in that culture. Every company culture can be improved, and these questions provide a personal perspective on what needs work. There is no one who can describe the company culture better than someone working in the company, and these questions grant an opportunity to do so.
Request Specific Collaboration Examples
One question I often find insightful for gauging team dynamics and culture is, “Could you share a specific instance of successful collaboration or a project within the team, shedding light on how team members typically collaborate?”
Posing this question allows interviewers to provide firsthand examples, offering valuable insights into the team’s collaborative dynamics, communication style, and overall interactions. The response becomes instrumental in assessing whether the team’s working culture resonates with my preferences and expectations, contributing to a more profound understanding of the potential fit within the team.
Investigate Team Tenure and Role Changes
That one question would be to know how long each team member from the team has been with the company and what different roles each of them has played. If almost everyone is pretty new to the team and company, it would probably explain the lack of a team mindset and inclusive growth, and probably it’s more about individual performance and aspirations.
Talking about a hard time when the leader of the department has to make a hard decision, like letting someone go from the team, and the reason for it would also be another question which can provide great insights about the dynamics and culture of the team.
Explore Team Meeting Frequency and Style
I would suggest asking, “How frequently do you hold team meetings?” This is a great question to start a conversation about internal processes, communication, setting expectations, sharing feedback, and accountability in the team.
An appropriate follow-up to this can be how many meetings you are expected to participate in, or how long team meetings usually last. This simple question can tell you a lot about how the team you may work in collaborates, communicates, and coordinates, giving you an insight into the company and team culture.
Probe Company Values in Daily Operations
In my view, the best question a candidate can ask to get this information is, “Can you describe the company’s values and how those come across in the day-to-day workplace?” You want to make sure to ask a more expansive question such as this, as opposed to just asking, “What are the company’s values?” to get full, useful insights.
If you just ask about the values, the interviewer may answer by simply reading off the stated values from the company’s mission statement or website. This doesn’t give you much information about how the company lives those values, however, or what impact they’ll have on your daily work environment.
You can learn a lot about the company from how the interviewer answers this question. If they struggle to describe ways the values influence the culture, this could be a red flag of an organization with a disjointed culture, or one that doesn’t “walk the walk” of the values it claims to promote. Conversely, if the interviewer is able to clearly articulate the company’s values and provide examples of how they demonstrate them, this gives you a good sense of the kind of culture you’re entering into and how that impacts the interpersonal dynamics within the team.
Uncover Reasons for Termination
A great question I’ve been asked when interviewing someone was, “The last person terminated from your company, what was the reason for their termination and the steps taken to avoid getting to that point?”
I think that was an insightful question. I’ve thought about it a lot and realized it gives them a chance to see how we talk about past employees, whether it’s with respect, and if we take the necessary steps to train and/or improve employee performance, or if we just get rid of them and replace them.
Identify Ideal Cultural Fit or Misfit
I’ve always coached people to ask, “Tell me about the type of individual that would fit best—or worst—within your culture?” This allows the interviewee to listen and critically think and discern what is really being said, then reflect on how that fits in with the questions they have been asked, and their observations of the interviewing team.
Assess Approach to Development Plans
Ask them to describe their approach to long-term development plans.
First off, if they struggle to tell you anything, that should be a major red flag. Assuming they can answer the question, there are a few reasons why I think this question works well. It tells you that significant value is placed on the individual members of the team and the resources needed to help them advance in their career—which can be rare in many industries.
It also tells you that the interviewer is hands-on enough to understand those plans and is likely able to be a driving force behind them, which is extremely useful if you join their team, as it means you won’t be fighting an uphill battle.
Examine Dynamics of Last Team Meeting
You can ask the team member to describe the last team meeting they had. Be sure to get specifics about topics discussed, whether input/brainstorming was encouraged, and the outcome of the meeting to see if action plans were put in place. This will definitely give you insight into team dynamics and culture. Asking different members of the team at different levels of the organization will be insightful as well.
Understand Recognition of High Performers
I often work with recruiters who would offer high performers anything but fair compensation, such as a bonus, a salary increase, or a promotion.
This is why I recommend asking how the team celebrates and recognizes high performers.
If the recruiter only mentions that they organized a party, offered a chocolate medal, or a bottle of wine, you know that high performers are not valued in the company.
Huge red flag!
Compare Current and Past Team Cultures
One insightful question to ask during an interview to understand the dynamics and culture of the team you may join is: “Could you describe the current team culture here and how it compares to the last team culture you were part of?”
This question is effective because it encourages the interviewer to reflect on both the present and past work environments, providing a nuanced perspective. The comparison between the two cultures can reveal significant aspects, such as the team’s communication style, level of collaboration, approach to problem-solving, and overall work atmosphere. It also offers insights into how the organization evolves and adapts, which can be indicative of its flexibility, openness to change, and how it values its employees.
Additionally, the interviewer’s response can give you clues about their personal values and how well they align with the team, which can be a key factor in determining your fit within the organization.
Discover Unique Workplace Characteristics
When exploring the dynamics and culture of a potential team, ask: “What’s something specific to this workplace that sets it apart from others?”
This question is known for revealing a company’s values and practices. It can prompt varied reactions. Whether it’s a thoughtful response or an animated recount, the answers provide valuable information. You can understand the unique aspects of the workplace and what the team experience might entail.