Imagine you’re a jewel thief leading a heist.
You can choose between two teams of accomplices, Team A or Team B. Both teams have the highest level of skill and expertise.
The only difference is, Team A has the same background, education, and upbringing as you, and you immediately connect on a personal level. Team B has life experiences very different from yours, and you don’t feel a very strong connection.
Which team do you pick for the heist: Team A or Team B?
In today’s hiring world, we’ve been conditioned to always pick Team A. We’re obsessed with the idea of “cultural fit” and company culture, and we value similarities over differences. In interviews, we look favorably on candidates we can see ourselves hanging out with, and with whom we have instant chemistry.
But this is a major blind spot. When you stack the deck with people just like you, your team suffers in the long run. Sure, Team A might get along like old friends, but they won’t be as effective at their jobs as Team B.
This is the problem with hiring based on company culture alone.
With Team B, you have a wealth of valuable experience to draw upon. Each individual member offers a different set of skills, knowledge, and ideas. If something goes terribly wrong during the heist, you have a greater chance of solving the problem successfully.
In the heist scenario—and in the workplace—Team B is always the better choice. You want employees who buck the norms, and who aren’t a cultural fit.
In a study at Northwestern University, researchers put this theory to the test. They asked groups of sorority and fraternity members to solve a fictional murder. At one point in the exercise, a new person was introduced to each group—either an insider from their fraternity/sorority or an outsider from a separate fraternity/sorority.
The results were shocking. In groups where an outsider was introduced, success rates skyrocketed. In groups where an insider was introduced, success rates sank.
More surprisingly, groups with an insider reported higher confidence in their decision about who the murderer was, even when they were totally wrong. Bolstered by being surrounded by like-minded people, they were sure they had come to the right conclusion.
That’s what happens when you hire with a Team A mindset.
Companies with a Team A mindset often struggle with overconfidence and end up in trouble down the line. Uber is a great example. CEO Travis Kalanick hand-picked a team of like-minded tech executives who collectively ignored the company’s sexism problem and found themselves embroiled in scandal. Kalanick and many of his team members have since resigned.
With a Team B mindset, this wouldn’t have happened.
Smart CEOs hire outsiders who bring new perspectives to the table – that’s what truly makes company culture more diverse. They value employees who challenge the status quo because that makes the company stronger in the long run. They’d rather experience the discomfort of disagreement than being surrounded by “yes men” who overinflate their confidence.
In the Northwestern University experiment, groups with an outsider reported a lower level of confidence about their decision, even though they were more likely to be right. That temporary loss of confidence is the natural outgrowth of questioning yourself when exposed to new people and ideas. It’s far healthier than the alternative—blind overconfidence.
The key is to understand that there will be some tension when you hire people who aren’t exactly like you. This is normal and beneficial. It’s what keeps your company moving forward.
In your next interview, ask yourself—am I looking to hire someone like me so I can stay in my comfort zone, or someone NOT like me who can bring a fresh perspective to the table?
Escape from the myth of “cultural fit” and hiring based on company culture, and you might find yourself with a team that’s stronger than ever.