CI’s Ten Topics

Three videos. Thirty mins. About the ten foundational topics on CI.

What’s communication? In its most basic form, it’s the spoken and the written word. Emails. Telephone calls. Face-to-face conversations. Virtual meetings. Written reports. Formal presentations. Communication with colleagues, customers, suppliers. 

Communication is more than words, however. It’s the thinking behind the words that counts. But … Germans and Americans communicate differently. If their communication with each other doesn’t work not much else will.

Agreements are like the air we breathe. We discuss, enter into, and fulfill agreements. When colleagues collaborate, they enter into agreements. Many agreements. On a daily basis. Most are simple and routine. 

Others are complex and situation-based. Some agreements are linked with still other agreements. Americans and Germans, however, handle agreements differently. If they don’t understand those differences, their agreements will break down.

There can be no action without a decision to act. There can be no decision to act without considering the options to act. And those options have to be presented.  Present. Decide. Act. When we present, we persuade. We want our audience to say “yes”. But Germans and Americans persuade differently. Their logics are not fully aligned. If those differences are not understood, they’ll lead to suboptimal decisions.

Decision Making
Decision-making is about what to do, how to do it and why. But, it’s also about decision-making approaches about decision-making logics. But, what if there are differences between the American and the German logics? Can two business cultures collaborate effectively, if they make decisions differently?

Every team has a team-lead and team-members people who interact with each other personally on a regular basis. Leadership is about that interaction. But, do Americans and Germans define good leadership in the same way? Do they lead – and want to be led – in the same way? Where do they draw the line between the what meaning the strategy or the decision made and the how meaning the tactics or the implementation of that decision? If teams don’t get that right, if they aren’t aware of the differences they won’t succeed.

Feedback is critical to the success of every individual, every team, every company. Feedback helps us to stay in touch with reality. We give and receive feedback on a constant basis: with colleagues, suppliers, and customers. Feedback … when it works … gives us a common understanding of where we stand, what the score is,what’s working and what isn’t. However, German feedback and American feedback are not the same. If the two cultures don’t understand the differences, they will have a different views of reality.

Conflict is normal, unavoidable, it’s even healthy. Germans and Americans are two capable, proud, and strong-willed peoples. When they collaborate, they will disagree about things. No big deal. Critical is that they resolve their disagreements in a transparent, fair and just way.

And both societies are – for the most part – transparent, fair and just. But their approaches to conflict resolution are not the same. The danger is that the one culture’s approach can appear to the other as not fair. And no organization can succeed if conflicts go unresolved or if one side feels that they’ve been treated unjustly.

A culture’s product philosophy defines what a good product is, its characteristics … its character. Because there are differences between cultures, there are differences between product philosophies. And there are certainly differences between the American and German product philosophies. If there were no differences their products would look the same or similar.

But, they don’t. When Germans and Americans collaborate it’s to produce a result: a product, a service, a solution. The better they understand the differences between their respective product philosophies, the better they can produce great results … together.

Processes are the rules which govern the inner workings of a company. Processes whether formal or informal documented or undocumented describe how the work is done, how the work should be done. Those who have the say about processes, have the say about how the work is done.

But what if Americans and Germans don’t share a common understanding of what makes for an effective process?  The two cultures need to understand not only each other’s most important processes, but more importantly the thinking behind those processes. If they don’t their collaboration won’t function very well.

Every individual, every team, every company is part of a business ecosystem, is a participant in a complex web of customer-supplier relationships. We receive something. An input. We add to it. Hopefully our contribution is valuable. We then pass it along. Our approach to these interactions – our logic – is shared by both customer and supplier. For in all business relationships we’re either customer or supplier.

But wait: do Americans and Germans take the same approach? If it turns out that they do not, and if colleagues are not  aware of the differences, they could damage important business relationships rather quickly.

CI’s Ten Stories

Hans in Chicago – Communication
Hans is German. Competent, respected, liked. Two hundred American engineers were added to his team.

He wants to introduce himself to the organization, especially to three new American direct reports. Hans flies over to Chicago. The four meet for dinner. It starts off fine. Until Hans brings up controversial topics. The Americans are not amused.

What a shame! – Agreements
Steven works in Atlanta. Anna in Stuttgart. Steven’s needs data from the most important projects company-wide.  Anna had worked on one of those projects. Steven reaches out to Anna, who wants to help.But they fail to agree on how to collaborate. All lose: Steven, Anna, the company. It was avoidable.

Game Day – Persuasion
Mark works for a German company in the U.S., a first-tier automotive supplier. His team discovered a serious opportunity. Detroit clearly stated its interest. Mark’s team prepared the business case. Key departments were on board. They then got the green light from their otherwise very critical U.S. management. With high hopes they were off to Germany to persuade the board. Four days of intense scrutiny. Then rejection. It wasn’t pretty. What went wrong?

“But, it’s only a car!” – Decision Making
Two-dayoffsite. With Americans Germans engineers. They had problems integrating decision making, and in a critical area. Day 1: understand differences regarding decision making. Day 2: integrate to how make decisions together. 

We contrasted the two cultures when it comes to how to buy a used car. The differences jumped off the flipcharts. The workshop succeeded. They all had great fun. But, what would have been the cost to company if we had failed?

Job Swap – Leadership
Luke, an American, and Theo, a German, are colleagues in a global company. Early-50s, experienced, successful, in leadership positions. They decided to exchange positions for one year. It went well. Luke had a great year in Germany. As did Theo in the U.S.

And their direct reports gained deep insight into the differences between how Americans and Germans lead, and want to be led. It could have gone differently, however. Delegations often underperform or fail outright. How high would the costs have been with Luke and Theo?

“I’m fired.” – Feedback
Aaron, an American, is a first-rate engineer and manager. Sent to Germany on a three-year delegation, his tasks: knowhow transfer, process integration, build cross-Atlantic teams.

The first year is up. Time for Aaron’s first formal performance review. With Martin, his boss. Aaron expected a B+. And Martin saw him as a B+. But German feedback is not American feedback.

Their meeting did not go well. Aaron was disheartened. Martin confused. Neither understood why. Nor did they figure it out over time. They continued to work well together. But they could have achieved far more.

Up. Over. Down. – Conflict Resolution
USA. Joe in manufacturing is in conflict with Judy in supply management. Joe goes to his boss, Anne, explains the problem, requests that she speak with Rich, Judy’s boss. Anne gets Joe’s side of the story. Rich gets Judy’s. 

The two managers then work out a compromise. They call in Joe and Judy to discuss.  The conflict parties like the compromise, tweak it, accept it.  The deal is done. They both get back to work. Up, over and down. 

But wait. What happens if they’re working cross-Atlantic?  Joe is Joe. Anne is Anne. Both in Houston.  But, Judy is Ingrid. And Rich is Manfred. Both in Dortmund.  How does up, over and down play out?

Roger and Karl surprised – Product
A German company acquires an American. Their core strength is engineering. Executive management wants rapid integration of the two engineering organizations. The respective leaders – Karl in Germany, Roger in the U.S. – agree on the steps to be taken. 

The first, and most critical, step is a full-week offsite workshop in the U.S. with their top ten people. Their goal was to produce a draft roadmap. They failed. Instead it was five days of tension. And very costly.

Quotes from Interviews – Processes
„If we are honest, we Germans think many times that the Americans have no real processes. If they do, we do not see them or understand them. Yes, they do write down a lot of things and have many books with lots of detailed steps written down. But either they do not understand them or they do not follow them!”

„Our German colleagues takes their processes a bit too seriously. They always want to talk about our processes, as if the entire success of our technology and our company were dependent on processes. Sure they are important, but more crucial is whether they help us reach our goals.”

“You got it wrong.” – Customer
A very important client. German. Head of a thousand-person engineering organization. I had done nine months of work for it. Dinner at a restaurant. I finally meet him. Friendly, relaxed, anything but self-important. He had every reason to be formal, intimidating, testing.

None of that. All signals were positive. At least those in the first few minutes. Then he picks a fight with me. Verbally, intellectually, of course. „You know, Herr Magee, I was against you doing any work for my organization. I think you have it wrong.“