Company Culture VS. Departmental Culture: Why You Should Know the Difference

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You’ve read the Human Resources page through and through, and you are convinced that this is the company where you will not only fit in perfectly, but thrive and grow. We are dedicated to a promoting a culture that encourages Work/Life Balance.” you read, while smiling. Great, because I am dedicated to having work/life balance.” you think. You read on and on about open door policies, promoting from within, professional development, and the immense value this company places on its employees. You, my friend, are sold. Before you sign your name on the dotted line of your Offer Letter, be sure to take the time to try to gauge the departmental culture, because it can be very different from the bigger picture promoted in the Employee Handbook, in your interview with HR, and from the company website. Here are 3 things to consider when assessing departmental culture with a potential employer.

1.Who is your boss?

Look behind the smiling face or stern look from the interview, and really research your boss. With industry publications readily available online and LinkedIn at your fingertips, there really is no excuse not to research your boss, because guess what? Your boss has definitely researched you!

How long has he or she been in this role? What was their previous experience? Have they been in management before? These are all great questions to ask to help determine whether or not your departmental culture will be as great of a fit as the company culture. For example, if your goal is to learn as much as possible about the industry, and your boss is also new to the field or industry, this particular position may not meet your professional development needs.

Although it is not too common, if you have access to others who have worked with or for your boss, it would be valuable to gain some intel on how your boss works. Is he or she a micro-manager? What does the turnover look like for you bosses direct reports? What is his or her professional reputation? Just like company culture, bosses come in a variety of styles, approaches, and quirks. It is important for you to find one who brings out the best in you.


2. Communication: Who said what to who and when? Why?

Remember the game of telephone where everyone sat or stood in a circle and whispered the “same” message, and the last person to receive the message shouted it aloud? Usually it started with something like “The elephant is pink.” and ended with a version of “L-M-N-O-P in a sink.” Well, in the professional world, many messages are communicated throughout the department and company daily. The accuracy of the message by the time it gets to you can dictate how effective you are in your job. For this reason, it is important to gain a sense of the communication protocol in your office. Does everything trickle down from the top to the bottom? Are you allowed to communicate directly with your boss’s boss? Is the department’s primary mean of communication emails or conference calls or meetings? Try to gain a sense of departmental communication protocol before saying “Yes” to that new position, it will save you from many headaches after the fact.

3. Morale:How is the energy?

Trust me when I tell you that a company itself can be great. The company can have a strong mission that aligns with your own, company-wide employee appreciation events, professional development opportunities, and more, and your department can still be a dark, miserable place. We all know that one co-worker who always has a complaint, is never happy, and is determined to make everyone else miserable as well. Be careful when accepting your new position that you are not joining a team of unhappy people who take pleasure in stirring up discontentment. Although you may be mentally and emotionally strong, negativity is contagious. Avoid a misery infested department by all means. How do you do this? By meeting the team before you accept the position.

I, personally, believe that departmental culture is way more important than company culture. After-all, your department is “really” where you work. You will have more contact with your departmental team than anyone else in the company, and often outside of the company. With Americans spending more time at work than with their families and friends, it is important that we practice self-care by choosing to work in environments that uplift, fulfill, and encourage us to be our authentic selves.