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Haute Culture And Picnics

February 20, 2015

So, what did you think of the candidate?

Good technical skills. Knows the software. But, I think we’re going to pass.

How come?

Just not the right cultural fit

The following happened to a woman interviewing for a program manager job at Microsoft.

Well Jesica, any questions for me?

No, not really.


Seriously, the interviewer went from Bruce Banner to the Hulk in just a couple seconds.


He was trying (badly, IMO) to see if she was a good cultural, or team fit. Microsoft was one of the companies that I’ve worked for that worried the most about culture.

The above interview happened with the Microsoft Exchange team. Even by Microsoft standards they were a little crazy. After shipping Exchange 4.0, the Ship party got a little out of hand. What with free beer and a team known for rowdiness. They tossed a leather couch off the third floor balcony. After shipping Exchange 5.0 they passed out cigars and so many of the team smoked them in the building that it set off the fire alarm and the Redmond fire department rolled trucks. They were not amused. I think it was the Exchange 5.5 Ship party where they built a jello wrestling ring in the middle of the atrium. It broke of course and they never did get the stains out of the carpet.

Microsoft had an extensive art collection. The executive committee instituted a rule that the Exchange team had to notify the art department before a Ship party. The art guys would then come remove all the art work from the building. There was an exterior art work that couldn’t be removed. It was a circle of stones. The circle was 20 feet in diameter. The exchange guys lined it with plastic and turned it into a wading pool. Unfortunately, they flooded the parking garage below it.

The Exchange team got its cultural personality from Brian Valentine, the director over Exchange.

What is your team’s culture? It doesn’t have to be mayhem and destruction like Exchange was.

While working for a large non profit in Utah, the company gave each team a certain amount of morale money. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to do a team dinner taking employees and spouses out for a nice dinner. And that’s what most teams did. They did a Christmas dinner for employees and spouses at a local restaurant.

Everyone was expected to go. Secretly? I hated it.

I loved my manager and my peers, but the venue was all wrong. Christmas is a busy season. It meant I had to find a baby sitter, drive to Salt Lake, sit at a long table with twenty people around it and try to talk to the four or five within earshot. I calculated how long I would have to stay to avoid looking rude. When I got the morale money for my team I approached it a little differently.

Team, we are not doing a Christmas dinner.


Yeah. Instead, we are going to go see Avatar as a team Wednesday afternoon.

What are you going to do with the rest of the morale money?

A picnic.


In June, when the kids are out of school, we’ll do a picnic at a local park.

What, like on a Saturday?

Nope. On a Wednesday. Your wives can bring the kids. There’s a water park area. I’ll buy the meat with the morale money and everyone bring a side dish. We’ll eat, play softball or frisbee, or just visit. When you are done, you can go “work from home” for the rest of the day.

The team, all of whom had young families, loved it. My boss hated it.

Why don’t you schedule it for a Saturday so it’s not taking time away from work?

That’s the point, Mark. They put in a lot of hours, I feel guilty making them choose to spend their free time at a company event.

Your team has a culture. It’s going to have one just by virtue of it being a team. As the manager, and the leader you get to set that culture. And it should reflect both you and the team. You might be a Brian Valentine who would start every Ship party by declaring

I want each of you to break at least two rules before you go home.

Or, it might be the team Christmas dinner. Or maybe you’re the picnic team.

And when you look to add people to your team, “cultural fit” isn’t just a lame excuse for not hiring someone. You need to make sure the new members are going to fit in with your culture.

(BTW, my friend didn’t go to work for the Exchange team. Who needs people yelling at you all day?)

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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From → Team Building

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