If we are honest, we Germans think many times that the Americans have no real processes. If they do, we do not see them or understand them. Either they do not understand them or they do not follow them!”
Our German colleagues always talk as if the entire success of our technology and our company were dependent on processes. Sure they are important, but more crucial is whether they help us reach our goals.”
Act 1 – German colleague about American processes
The senior management wants us to harmonize our processes cross-Atlantic. We have been working on it already for one year. It is a really big problem. I think sometimes that we and our American colleagues talk about totally different things when we sit down to integrate these complex structures.
We have our thinking about how process should look. Based on this we have our Verfahrensanweisungen and Arbeitsanweisungen, sort of like processes and procedures. Anyways, those are the words they use in the U.S.
If we are honest, we Germans think many times that the Americans have no real processes. If they do, we do not see them or understand them. Yes, they do write down a lot of things and have many books with lots of detailed steps written down. But either they do not understand them or they do not follow them! Everything is very unsystematic. We call them long to-do lists or checklists.
If they do follow their own processes, they do it in a strange way. Often they jump over important steps, or they do steps out of order. No process discipline. What we really dislike is when they do not follow the set process, but at the same time do not tell us that they do this! We have no time to adjust what we do or to react.
Sometimes they hold themselves to their to-do lists very exactly, as if they were not competent enough to make their own decisions, other times they just go in another direction away from the process we agreed to. All very confusing.
I think sometimes, how are we to achieve good results when our work processes are so full of chaos? I think our process are very professional and scientific and that we should use them. Our US-colleagues do not want to see it this way, however.
They are very good, but a bit stubborn. We will harmonize our processes. It will take more time and many will be angry a lot. But they will see at some time that their processes should be adapted to ours. Then all will be ok.
Act 2 – American colleague about German processes
Our German colleagues takes their processes a bit too seriously. They always want to talk about our processes, as if the entire success of our technology and our company were dependent on processes. Sure they are important, but more crucial is whether they help us reach our goals.
I mean, processes are nothing more than tools. If they work, great. If not, either modify or get rid of them. Heck, we have processes that frankly noone really pays attention to. Often they are outdated or things change so rapidly that we have to react quickly.
Their German processes are so complicated. It’s as if they want to connect everything that exists into one big system. If you take a look at some of their graphs you’ll see this thinking. They’re true works of art! It can take an hour to figure them out, following all of the solid and dotted lines, the arrows, colors and numbers. Great to be systematic in thinking. Key, however, is to break the complexity down so that you can move forward.
What none of us has quite figured out is when our German colleagues stick to a process and when they deviate. Sometimes when it is clear to us that we have to stick literally to a certain process or procedure one of our German colleagues goes off and interprets it they way he feels.
And the other way around, too. I mean, there are steps in some processes where it is clear, you have to interpret, or even in somes cases simply skip over. That’s when an exasperated German colleague comes along and demands that we stick to the process.
Oh, and by the way, never assume that your German colleagues have documented their processes. When we asked to see their documentation, they said that they didn’t have it. At first we didn’t believe them. Then we realized that they were telling the truth. Nothing, or very little, was documented!
And to top it off, they did all they could to avoid having to write down how they work. Very strange. Once you do get your hands on their documentation be prepared for a surprise. They are short, totally general and the procedures sometimes aren’t there! We all swore that they were hiding again.
Anyway, we’ve lost a lot of time in our team, and I suspect in the company, fighting over processes. Now we’re supposed to integrate them, but that will be a long hard ordeal. Nobody on this side of the Atlantic is thrilled with the prospect of using the German processes. We all think we should use ours. They can use theirs.
Act 3 – The Cost of Cultural Misunderstanding
If you work in and across the American and the German business cultures, the quotes above might sound familiar to you. You most likely know that there are fundamental differences between the process philosophies of the two cultures. And that these differences can make cross-Atlantic collaboration difficult, regardless of how capable and willing American and German colleagues are to collaborate.
Let’s address what it can cost a team, a department, a division, or even an entire company, when the two cultures are not aware of the differences, when they do not understand the influence or impact of those differences, on their ability two work together effectively.
Identify the most important process within your organization. It is that process which has the highest level of impact on overall success. Now imagine that you have two camps within the organization.
For the one camp the process is good. It’s their process. They have always worked with it. For the other camp, however, the process is foreign. They are not familiar with it, do not feel comfortable with it. Nor do they think it is effective.
What are the negative effects on the company?
The one side will not work effectively. Possibly they will try to ignore, change or even subvert the process. You know your own organization. What would that cost it in terms of lost productivity?
And what impact will the situation have on the actual work results produced by the organization? Estimate the cost to the organization when its most important process is neither understood, accepted nor lived in a uniform, or near uniform, way.
And the impact on overall collaboration? If there is lack of unity, lack of cohesion, regarding the most important process, to what degree will cross-Atlantic cooperation suffer?
Let’s get specific. What does a decrease of 5% in all three areas cost the organization: productivity, work outcomes, day-to-day collaboration?
Now take that number – in U.S. dollars or in Euros – and multiply that times the number or organizations within the company whose success is based on Americans and Germans working well together.
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