German Approach

Germans expect room to interpret decisions when implementing them. They consider that to be a key part of their work. In many situations, deviation from an assigned task is unavoidable, thus accepted and expected by leadership.

In certain situations, Germans feel obligated to deviate significantly from a decision which they, as "experts on the ground," judge to be unwise, counterproductive, or harmful to the business.

American Approach

The line between those who make strategic decisions and are responsible for their outcomes (what), and those who carry out those decisions (how), is drawn very distinctly in the American context.

Decisions which cannot work or would damage overall efforts are communicated carefully up through the chain of command. There is very low tolerance﹣among American team leaders and members﹣for independent questioning or non-implementation of decisions.

German View

German team members quite often find American decisions too rigid. They feel degraded to mere implementers, following orders, forbidden to apply their education, training and experience to ever changing parameters "on the ground."

German leaders are surprised when their American team members do not take the initiative to interpret and implement the tasks assigned to them.

They appear to want those tasks to be spelled out in detail first before implementing. German team leaders can get the impression that Americans are not sufficiently self-managing.

American View

Americans in positions of authority, indeed, do not tolerate creative implementation deviating too far from the original intent of a decision. They note with astonishment to what degree German team members modify or “revisit” their decisions.

In some instances this can border on insubordination. American team members are surprised to hear from their German team leaders that they should more actively interpret the tasks assigned to them.

They wonder why the team leader simply doesn't make that task more clear. And they are equally surprised by how freely their German colleagues interpret management decisions.

Advice to Germans

Expect your American team members to ask for approval before they diverge from your decisions. They will be less willing than their German counterparts to act independently of you on important matters.

This is not a sign that they cannot self-manage, but of respect for your authority and judgement. At the same time, encourage them to make necessary adjustments without your approval.

If you are a German with an American team leader, be very careful about making changes to decisions without first getting a sign-off. Your American leader sees herself as responsible for the results of your work.

Check with her first, discuss your recommendation, get permission. If it is good, you will be given more freedom to act independently.

Advice to Americans

Your German team members will consult you far less frequently during implementation. And they will make adjustments, even major deviations, without getting your approval. This is not a challenge to your authority.

Discuss with your team when they need your input before deviating from your decisions or from the overall tactical plan. If you report to a German leader, and you see the need to immediately adjust your tactical plan, do so without asking your leader for approval.

Maintain forward movement. If the decision itself requires reassessment, first formulate your advice, then inform your leader of the options.