Very confusing

So many people on the German side. Especially in central functions. Who have so much time on their hands. Producing so many powerpoint presentations. Conduct so many long-winded discussions. Going into such great detail.

The Americans call them bureaucrats, who create processes, in order to justify their jobs in the company. “Make work.” German bureaucracy is there, say Americans, “to feed the village.”

Germans and Americans come together to discuss their collaboration, including to discuss their processes. They don’t know each other, are wary of each other, want to defend and protect their work, how they work, demonstrate that their processes are effective.

In many cases – perhaps most – people are convinced that their processes are good, and that they live them. But many Americans have a cliché-view of the Germans. They strike the table with their fist and say: „We will do it this way and not that way!“ And German behavior can at times appear to support that cliché.

The truth is, German colleagues are also convinced that their approaches work. And why not? Unfortunately, many of them are not proficient enough in English, and they, too, are unsure of themselves, perhaps feel the need to force their point across, strongly, vehemently. I don’t have a problem with that. But, many Americans do: „totally inflexible Germans with their inflexible German processes.“

In addition to these tensions you have the fact that Germans tend not to document their processes. Often they refuse to do so. When they do document, however, the formulation is usually general, with little detail.

Why? For one, the written word in the German culture has a high degree of binding character. Germans are very reluctant to tie their hands via detailed processes and procedures which then obligate them to do their work in specific ways. Another reason is that many Germans don’t want to share their knowhow. They don’t want it to be transferrable.

This is not so much about “information is power”, but far more about job-security. And then, of course, they see very little value in taking the time to carefully and clearly write things down. Their thinking is: Institutional knowledge is there. Folks know what they are supposed to do, when, how and why.

And, Germans develop competences differently than Americans. First learn, then do. They work in specific areas for a longer period of time, developing deep-dive knowledge and experience. And they get a sense for the what other departments close to theirs do. 

Depth and breadth. Continuity and consistency. Kaminaufstieg – move up within the smokestack or the silo – is the term they use. They build expertise, become experts. And experts, Germans would say, don’t need document how the work is done. They have it in their heads.

Documented or not documented, either way it remains a mystery to Americans when Germans “stick to the letter of the law” (process discipline) and when they permit themselves to ignore the process (process deviation). 

On the one side stubborn, dogmatic Germans and their inflexible processes. On the other, little to no process documentation, and doing things they way they simply want to. And when they do deviate from the process they may not even bother informing their boss. Very confusing.

Very confusing