Self-Follow up

Question
“How can I (as a German) get Americans to do more self-follow up, so that I don’t have to do the follow up?“

John Otto Magee

Symptomatic

Thanks for the question. It’s symptomatic for German-American cooperation, and it can be answered.

There is follow up and there is follow up, meaning different kinds of follow up, depending on the context in which it takes place. First, take a look at the respective logics under: Agreements_Follow up.

If you manage Americans and you feel that you have to follow up too often on their work, or on certain tasks which you have assigned to them, then I can think of the following explanations:

Not competent

It’s entirely possible that certain members of your team are not competent. Plain and simple. This requires of you to constantly check on them and their work. If this is the case, you need to address it with them.

Competent

If your team is competent then perhaps your instructions are not clear. Yes, start off by taking a critical look at yourself and ask: “What am I not doing right which then requires of me that I have to follow up on members of my team?”

It is typical in the German-American space for people to think they understand each other, including tasks assigned. Make sure that everyone is “on the same page”, that they have a common understanding of who is expected to do what, by when and how, including small-scope tasks.

Priorities change

Consider also the possibility that priorities can change. Americans are especially sensitive to changing parameters. What you expect from individual team members by a certain date and in a certain form might change in the eyes of that team member.

Follow up in the U.S. context is a key instrument for maintaining overview of not only tasks, but also their respective priorities.

Your team members might misunderstand or misinterpret which of their tasks assigned to them by you has priority for you. In other words, if you do not signal to them that the tasks you assigned are still important – and that signal in the U.S. is follow up – they could easily misinterpret your lack of follow up as: “That task is no longer so important.”

More self-follow up

The amount of follow up you have to do in order to “stay on top of” your American team members and/or colleagues is most likely typical for the U.S. context. It is certainly far too high for the German context.

So, how can you get Americans to do more “self follow up”?

First, discuss the topic with them. Make sure that they understand follow up in the German context. But make sure, also, that you understand how Americans use follow up.

Second, once all of you understand the cultural differences between Germans and Americans when it comes to follow up, both parties – you and your American team members – will be in a position to decide how you want to handle it.

Remember: First understand, then combine!

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