What went wrong?
In smalltalk situations Germans consciously choose topics which Americans consider to be controversial. In stark contrast, Americans choose topics which Germans consider to be superficial. Those two approaches could not be more different.
America and Americans have been very present in the lives of Germans – especially West Germans – since 1945. U.S. foreign, security and economic policy has always had significant influence on Germany and the Germans. For these – and other reasons – Germans feel as if they were closely related to America and Americans, as if they were members of a wider American family.
Germany and Germans have had a minimal presence in the lives of Americans since 1945. Although Americans like and admire Germany and the Germans, they do not feel as if they are closely related to them, they do not regard Germans as members of a wider American family.
German team leads want, expect, and invite their team members to challenge them. German team members want and will challenge their team leads.
American team leads allow their team members to challenge them, but only certain team members, under certain circumstances, and in certain ways.
Germans are direct in their communication. They believe that people should say what they mean, and mean what they say. That people should choose clear and unambiguous words. Germans believe in addressing the heart of the matter, regardless of how sensitive that matter might be.
Americans are more indirect in their communication. They believe that people should not always say what they mean, and not always mean what they say. Depending on the topic and the context, Americans do not choose clear and unambiguous words. They do not drive to the heart of the matter about sensitive topics.
Both sets of approaches, both sets of logics, are legitimate, correct, and effective. But only in their native national cultural context. When applied in another national culture, they can lead to problems. Problems which are serious, painful and expensive.
Neither Hans and Evelyn on the German side, nor Maria, Jack and Nancy on the American side, were aware of these cultural differences.
Their lack of awareness was their blind spot. They were blind to the cultural differences. Both sides. Both cultures. Blind to the each other.
Did anything else go wrong?