Recruiting employees: how compatibility (Person-organization fit) can drive trust and team performance

When looking and applying for jobs, future employees often subjectively assess whether their knowledge, skills, and abilities meet the demands of their employer, as well as whether organizations’ values, resources and reward schemes meet their needs and expectations. Such assessments are referred to as person-organization (P-O) fit. Previous research has already demonstrated how a high level of compatibility (P-O fit) impacts individual employee’s well-being, engagement, and performance. A recent study by Professor Jingjing Yao and his co-authors Qiongjing Hu (Zhejiang University) and Zhi-Xue Zhang (Guanghua School of Management, Peking University) now demonstrates incorporating P-O fit as a selection criterion in the recruitment can also positively impact team performance by facilitating trust between members.

The importance of teamwork

Good teamwork and effectively performing teams are crucial to organizations in every sector. The 2019 Global Human Capital Survey by Deloitte, for example, highlighted the rising importance of teams to organizational performance.

We had noted that previous research had generally focused on the impact of person-organization fit at the individual level as a perception,” Professor YAO explains. “As teams have a crucial role to play we thought it would be important to study this phenomenon at the team level as a selection criterion. We believed it was likely that valuing P-O fit in the recruitment process would positively influence intrateam trust and potentially team performance.”

The researchers designed a study to test this hypothesis, collecting data from 96 high-tech companies in China through a series of four questionnaires.  CEOs were questioned about their corporate culture; HR mangers about recruitment practices; team managers on team performance; and finally individual team members were asked to respond to questions about intrateam trust.

How P-O fit boosts trust within a team

The study suggested that an emphasis on P-O fit when hiring ensures that new recruits are more likely to share values with their team members “Our results show this helps to develop trust between members, through a variety of mechanisms. Firstly, it facilitates open communication as they are more likely to share standards and a common framework for exchanging information. Secondly,  it helps develop confidence in how other people will act and predictability builds trust between members. Finally, it also facilitates friendship and mutual liking between team members.”

The researchers then demonstrated that intrateam trust actually helps to boost team performance, which they measured through six variables. “When trust is high, team members are more likely to act cohesively in the pursuit of collective goals and this ultimately improves team performance,” explains Professor YAO.

The moderating role of corporate/organizational culture and ‘respect for people’

The research team also studied the impact of the company’s corporate culture and more specifically ‘respect for people culture’ (RFP) , which refers to the way a company advocates mutual respect, fairness and tolerance. “Our study showed that the impact of person-organization fit on trust and team performance was likely to be weaker in companies that had a very strong RFP culture.”

“In organizations that endorse a strong RFP culture, employees are more likely to already treat each other respectfully regardless of their values, which will reduce their perceptions of uncertainty when dealing with other employees. Therefore, when the P-O criterion is not incorporated in the recruitment process, it is less likely to impact on intrateam trust. In contrast, the value of fit becomes particularly important for companies with a weaker respect for people culture. Here, employees are more likely to rely on value similarity to initiate communication, and develop trust.”

Applications for managers and organizations

The research highlights that using the P-O fit criterion in HR practices can contribute to the development of intrateam trust and ultimately team performance. “We encourage, therefore, companies to incorporate this into their recruitment practices and assign a higher weightage to recruits who match the vales of the organization and existing colleagues”.

To do this as accurately as possible, the researchers suggest that HR departments may carry out multiple rounds of interviews (leaderless group discussions, one-to-one etc.) and could consider involving interviewers from diverse backgrounds beyond HR specialists and department leaders.

Finally, the research highlights that P-O fit has less of an impact for companies that have a strong ‘respect for people culture’. Professor Yao stresses, however, that this doesn’t mean it is not important for these organizations. “We encourage organizations with a strong RFP culture to also emphasize P-O fit in recruitment due to the positive outcomes that have been demonstrated for individual employees.”

In an ideal world, therefore, he believes companies should be seeking to improve both P-O fit and their corporate RFP culture. “It’s important for companies to have a clear vision for the type of company they want to be—if you don’t know what type of company you want to be, then how to select the people that fit into this company?”

In terms of corporate culture he also notes that companies should be aware that in the notion of fairness, there are a number of aspects that can be developed beyond the traditional distributional fairness (for example, equal salaries for equal inputs), such as procedural fairness (for example, transparent procedures and feedback to employees).


Jingjing YAO is Associate Professor in International Negotiation. He obtained his PhD of Organization Management at Peking University, China. His research interests include negotiation, trust, culture, and doing business in China. He has published in various refereed journals as the first author, such as Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Management and Organization Review, International Journal of Conflict Management, Group Decision and Negotiation, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, and Negotiation Journal. He serves as an associate editor for the journal Group Decision and Negotiation, an editorial board member for the journal Management and Organization Review, a research member in CNRS-LEM, and the director of IESEG Center of Excellence on Negotiation (ICON).

Research article:

Selecting people based on person-organization fit: Implications for intrateam trust and team performance, Human Resource Management Journal – online (Qiongjing Hu, Jingjing Yao, Zhi-Xue Zhang)