Consensus vs. Top-Down


“As a practical matter, how does German consensus-style decision making differ from the American top-down approach? Is it more efficient? Does it produce better results? Is it easier to implement because of the buy-in of all the parties? Can these factors even be measured?“


Well, you can’t get more practical than making decisions and implementing them.

You ask three questions. 1. Differences between German consensus-building and American top-down decision making? 2. Which is more effective, and easier to implement? For every decision is only as good as its implementation. 3. Can decision making styles be measured?

Question 1 – Differences. This is a very complex topic. Please see my analysis on the divergences between Germans and Americans in their decison making in the lefthand navigation.

Question 2 – Effectiveness. Both countries, societies, economies are successful. Not without problems, not without ups and downs, but still the largest and fourth-largest economies on the planet, with more than a handful of first-rate global companies. So we can safely say about both cultures – therefore business cultures – that they know how to make decisions and implement them.

Which approach to decision making is more effective is an extraordinarily complex question, and would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis. I would not want to be the person who has to come up with a method for such analysis.

But that comparison is not all that relevant, anyway. American and German collaboration is not about judging which approach is better, but instead about first understanding the differences between the approaches, in order to define how best to combine their inherent strengths. “In order to”: the reason for, the task, goal, the great pay-off.

Imagine what Germans and Americans could achieve if they truly understood their respective decision making logics, then sat down to map out how they make decisions together! This is the true high art form of working across cultures.

Question 3 – Measureable. I’m not sure if “measure” is the right term. But there certainly are indications – let’s even call them KPIs (key performance indicators) – for decision making processes which work and those which do not work. See the five divergences between German and American decision making which I address. These can be understood as KPIs.

Consensus vs. Top-Down