Strength in Differences
German-American cooperation is about synergy. It is about combining the inherent strengths of two of the leading cultures in today‘s global economy. Combining strengths based on cultural differences is not a paradox.
The great potential lies in people. Seminar participants are Germans and Americans whose success depends on their ability to work together. They are colleagues who communicate constantly, work along common processes, make joint decisions, develop common products and services, serve the same internal and external customers. Some of these colleagues are long-term delegates. Many are management and subject area specialists who travel regularly across the Atlantic. Most, however, are colleagues who live and work in their home culture, but interact with colleagues, suppliers and customers in and from both cultures.
A Third Explanation
Transatlantic cooperation is more complex than expected. It often leads to frustration and impatience. People search for explanations, for causes of the problems, which they conveniently find on the respective other side of the Atlantic. The „other side“ is either incapable or unwilling. But seldom do we consider a third explanation. The „other side“ – our colleagues – are both capable and willing. They simply have a different approach. And what‘s more, their way leads to success just as our approach does. Discovering that third explanation – a different approach based on national culture – opens the door to true cooperation.
Person. Profession. Culture.
German-American cooperation operates on three levels: personal, professional, cultural. The personal level is about psychology. John Magee is not a psychologist, he does not address the human psyche. The professional level is about the very substance of the work. John is not a business consultant, he offers neither technical nor commercial advice. The cultural level is about the thinking behind the action. It is about approaches, methods, logics, traditions, ways of doing things. John Magee is a translator in the deepest sense of the term. He makes the differences in thinking and acting transparent, understandable, workable.
Ten topics. In ten modules. Approximately two hours each. In English or in German. At customer premises. Number of participants to be discussed.
Participants become members of CI – where you are now – a cloud-based resource offering access to John‘s core content. Participants respond to Surveys and Case Studies on the topics to be addressed in the classroom training, engage with John and other CI-members via Ask CI, read Stories and submit their own.
Each seminar module is a structured discussion focused on participant experiences, questions and critical situations. John responds and explains with the help of talking points and white papers. Central to all discussion are three questions:
Where do we differ in our national cultural approaches? What problems – and opportunities – are created by these differences? How do we minimize the problems while exploiting the opportunities?
As members to CI participants deepen and sustain their understanding of cultural differences. They continue their dialogue with colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic. And, participants apply what they have learned to their everyday work, using exercises such as Quantify and Combine.
About the Topics
Americans have an interactive style of communication. All too often German and American colleagues end their communication with the false assumption that each has understood the other. American e-mails follow the form of informal spoken communication, using a kind of insider-English in telegraph style. German e-mails are similar to a written document, implying a higher level of binding character. In the transatlantic context meetings are run differently. Americans meet on a regular basis in order to inform each other. Meetings tend to be less structured. Attendees enter and leave. Side-discussions and cell-phone calls take place. German information exchange occurs more often bilaterally. German meetings are more structured, with an agenda set clearly beforehand and adhered to with discipline.
Germans are reluctant to enter into agreements without thinking them through. Americans often misperceive this as lack of cooperation. In their context a spontaneous “yes” signals a basic willingness to help. The level of commitment of that “yes” is then determined by the details. The instinctive American “yes” surprises Germans, however. They interpret it as a firm commitment, regardless of the details of the discussion. Americans maintain an agreement primarily via follow-up, which allows one to gauge the level of commitment, to monitor the details, and to react rapidly to changing parameters. Germans view follow-up as superfluous, even as a sign of mistrust. Once an agreement is struck, it is assumed that it has been clearly thought through. The reliability of the other party should not to be doubted.
Presentations are integral to the communications of any company. More importantly, presentations are the basis for decision making. Effective presentations are persuasive presentations. Germans and Americans persuade differently, however. Transatlantic organizations without common criteria for judging what is persuasive run the risk of miscalculation. Important content, understood and accepted on one side of the Atlantic, suddenly does not resonate on the other. Decision making processes lose their effectiveness. Key people feel misunderstood, possibly ignored. Political calculation slowly creeps into otherwise open and objective analysis and argumentation.
Decision making processes go to the heart of a company’s forward movement, on both strategic and operational levels. For German-American organizations, integrating their key decision making processes is a complicated and delicate task. It is an attempt at combining the strengths of two approaches without damaging the fragile consensus needed to maintain them. For the potential risks and gains involved impact the bottom-line directly. The first step to integrating the best of the two respective logics, however, is to understand their fundamental differences.
Ineffective leadership has immediate and direct impact on team performance. Many have experienced the demanding task of leading transatlantic teams. Germans and Americans lead and want to be led differently. Their underlying assumptions defining successful leadership diverge significantly. Complicating the issue are misconceptions and misinterpretations about the two respective leadership approaches. For any transatlantic organization to be successful, it is imperative that these differences be understood and managed in all of their ramifications.
Feedback is a leadership tool with two goals: improve on weaknesses, build on strengths. Feedback helps one to know “where I stand” in the team. Feedback, both formal (performance reviews) and informal, is complicated, however. Its underlying assumptions, intentions and signals must be understood in order for feedback to be effective. Misapplied feedback, in contrast, easily damages the morale and motivation of an otherwise well performing individual or team. Germans and Americans give feedback and motivate. The divergences all too often have the opposite effect: demotivation, a sense of injustice, in the end poor performance.
Conflict is natural in any competitive, performance-oriented organization. Imbedded in its legal system is a national culture’s approach to resolving conflict. Conflicts within German-American teams are commonplace. The respective approaches to conflict resolution, however, differ in several key areas. For Germans conflicts are inherently negative. They expect conflict parties to solve their problems themselves. Escalation, a sign of a breakdown in the team, reflects negatively on the team and its lead. Americans see conflict as commonplace. Conflict parties seldom solve their problems alone. Escalation is a basic right. The team-lead is expected to resolve conflicts actively. These and other divergences in approaches, if not understood and properly balanced, hinder just and lasting conflict resolution. Overall team performance suffers.
In Germany, the essence of a product is in its quality. It is the primary guaranty for success. The goal of innovation is to be one step ahead of the competition and of the market itself. In the U.S. quality is one important product characteristic among several, all of which are measured relative to that price which the market is willing to pay. Along with value, functionality, service, customer orientation and timely delivery, quality is based on the specific needs of the customer. Joint product development requires, therefore, a high degree of agreement on those characteristics which will meet these needs.
Processes and procedures are in a sense the manuals governing a company’s inner workings. They make possible not only quality control and consistency. Processes and procedures coordinate complex, interrelated activities. They are the platform on which products and services are envisioned, developed, produced and optimized. In the transatlantic context, however, Germans and Americans do not share a common understanding of processes and procedures. The divergences in their respective logics is a source not only for diminished efficiency. Determining processes and procedures can become a transatlantic battleground with broad implications for cooperation within an entire organization.
Customer – Serve vs. Consult
A company’s success depends on meeting the needs of its customers, both internal and external. Meeting needs, though, runs deeper than merely supplying a particular product or service. The foundation is a common understanding of the business relationship between customer and vendor. Clarity on expectations and approaches is the prerequisite for a cooperative, lasting and successful business relationship. There are significant differences between how Germans and Americans fundamentally approach the customer, however. Regardless of whether the customer is internal or external, divergent customer philosophies mean divergent customer approaches. And divergent customer approaches lead to different customer reactions.