Like in the Middle Ages

Who has the say about processes is often a bloody battle. It’s about power. Central functions groups go to battle against each other. The also go into battle with and against line management.

Nabelschau. Navel-gazing. It’s a German tendancy, often more than just a tendancy. Instead of concentrating on winning the battle in the market, against the external competition, Germans invest a great amount of time in debating and defining which box goes where on the organizational chart, as well as who owns the box, who is put in the box. Org charts and processes are the battlefield – one of them – where Germans fight their fights. It can distract them from their work.

2000. A German DAX30 company with a critical presence in the U.S. I was interviewing a high-level American manager. He had done a three-year delegation in Germany, spoke some German, was clearly an intelligent and reflective person. He said: 

“The Germans are constantly fighting internal turf wars, like battles for territory. It’s like in the Middle Ages. The one person sits high up in his castle and looks into the distance at the lands possessed by his neighbor in the next castle, scheming about how he can take some of his land. And the other guy in his castle? He’s thinking the same thing.”

And it often really is so in German companies. Prestige, influence and power are directly linked to – based on – size. Compensation, too, is typically based on the size of one’s organization. Literally, how many people you have “under you.” So the wars for power are fought over size, structure and processes. How the work is done. 

Like in the Middle Ages