How cultural differences affect outsourcing – Germans & Eastern Europeans (II)
This is the second of a four-part miniseries covering the business relationship between Germans and Eastern Europeans (Romanians, Ukrainians and Bulgarians). You can read the first part here.
Germans and Eastern Europeans have slightly different attitudes towards leadership and this can influence the management and outcomes of an IT project.
Eastern Europeans are more hierarchical than Germans. The general manager not only has a strategic role but also has the highest authority to decide about how the tasks are being executed. This has another impact: Eastern Europeans expect the general manager (or the hierarchical superior) to know their assignments and instruct them on how to improve their work. This also means that there are higher expectations towards leaders to not only manage the business but also to be involved in other operational areas, including sales, account management and project management.
By the contrary, the Germans divide the authority horizontally, so that middle managers can also take decisions that can impact the project.
There are some common grounds: in the Eastern European region, building trust and networking play an important part in establishing good business relationships. This could take more time but will contribute to a healthier long-term relationship in the future.
Advice for the Germans:
Eastern Europeans seek the general manager’s approval, their culture is very hierarchical. As a German communicating with Eastern European suppliers, make sure you maintain direct communication with the business leaders, not only with the project manager. It is best to confirm any important decision with the highest hierarchical leader involved in the process.
Advice for Eastern Europeans:
Maintain clear and direct communication with your counterpart no matter if they have a leadership role or not. Not discussing directly with the CEO doesn’t necessarily mean that the project will suffer from lack of proper decision making. It may simply mean that such a person’s involvement in the process is not necessary for the project’s success.
From our experience in working with dozens of German and Eastern European companies, we advise on clarifying from the beginning the project roles of both teams. It is also advisable to make sure that Eastern European general manager (or the highest hierarchical leader involved) is updated on the project’s progress, even if not requested. As a German, clearly state the areas in which Eastern European teams will have the freedom to make decisions. If possible, create a clear procedure that will be communicated to the team, so that everyone is aligned with the guidelines.
In terms of decision-making, there is a very important difference between Germany and Eastern Europe. Germans are more inclined to have a flat decision-making model, while Eastern Europeans are, as in leadership, more hierarchical. They tend to be risk-averse, so they will take any required actions to reconfirm any important decision. German managers, on the other hand, will often discuss with their staff, encourage feedback and consensual decisions on future steps. However, the Eastern Europeans are usually more flexible when dealing with problems, and they tend to be more open to applying innovative, “out of the box” decisions.
Advice for Germans:
Try to be pro-active regarding giving and requesting feedback. Also, try to communicate as clearly as possible your expectations and the decision process. Be mindful about the opinions of your peers, even if they are not always openly expressed. Don’t immediately interpret the delays as refuse or negative action, this often means that more time is required to build trust or to eliminate any risks. Several meetings (sometimes face-to-face meetings) may be required before taking an important decision. Be patient and make sure you contribute to building trust.
Advice for Eastern Europeans:
Try to be more direct in requesting and giving feedback to your German collaborators. Keep in mind that Germans seem to communicate directly because they use low context communication, not because they avoid giving feedback or because they lack business etiquette. Meetings to discuss features or projects may seem like a waste of time for some Eastern Europeans, but you need to understand that the top management does not always have the right answers for the job.
We advise everyone involved in an IT project developed by a mixed German-Eastern European team having regular feedback sessions. It is important for the project’s success to set clear expectations every step of the way and make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the schedule. Also, give everyone a heads up so they will prepare in advance.
The management of a successful IT project goes way past the technical aspects, especially when multicultural teams are involved. The business communication can suffer at times when one of the parties fails to understand key cultural particularities. Germans and Eastern Europeans also have different approaches when it comes to time management. Read our next chapter to see how to make sure your project meets all milestones and deadlines.