The “Post-Wall Generation” – Do You Know Your Team in Germany?


These days, Germany leads Europe as an economic powerhouse. Why? High productivity, strong work commitment, solid education standards, and low absenteeism are but some of the reasons foreign companies seek teamwork with German employees and partners. Almost twenty-five years after the Wall came down, younger Germans in all parts of the country are more adaptable, flexible, and team-oriented than any generation before them. Many think of themselves as cosmopolitan, and view the country’s strong focus on conservation and environmental protection as exemplary for the rest of the world.

Berlin Wall

Dealing with “Post-Wall Generation” German teams and winning their trust can nevertheless be a delicate balancing act. Here are 10 tips to lead and motivate.

These days, Germany leads Europe as an economic powerhouse. Why? High work productivity, strong work commitment, solid education stand

ards, and low absenteeism are but some of the reasons foreign companies seek teamwork with German employees and partners. Almost twenty-five years after the Wall came down, younger Germans in all parts of the country are more adaptable, flexible, and team-oriented than any generation before them. Many think of themselves as cosmopolitan, and view the country’s strong focus on conservation and environmental protection as exemplary for the rest of the world.

While clearly ‘Western’, this country’s culture imposes its own, sometimes distinctly different ways in which people communicate and collaborate, how teams are led effectively, and what motivates employees. You may find these ten hints useful when getting ready to work with a “Post-Wall Generation” team in Germany:

  1. Send clear messages. – German communication can seem brutally frank to Americans, Asians, Africans…well, almost everybody! Using polite language (“I’m not sure I agree”) could actually cause confusion here, as statements are commonly taken literally. Your team members will appreciate it when you are as clear and direct as possible.
  2. Invite open feedback and work through negativity. – While some may be shy, most Germans like being asked for their opinion. What comes back can sound quite negative, though. People here tend to analyze the weaknesses in a statement or proposal before agreeing with it, and aren’t shy to voice their reservations. Don’t take that as rejection; it simply means you’ll need to work through their concerns until they reach the point where things make sense to them.
  3. Walk the talk. –Teams here are not easily impressed with grand speeches. To most local folks, Doing matters much more than Talking. In order to win the respect and trust of your German team, make sure to do what you said you will do, keep your promises, and generally prove reliable and dependable.
  4. Respect competence. – Job competence is greatly admired in Germany, and those with solid experience and judgment enjoy much respect from their peers, regardless of age. Local teams often complain that Americans pay more attention to the most talkative team members than to the most competent ones. Don’t make that mistake. Look for indicators such as whom others on the team respect most!
  5. Admit mistakes you made. – Before asking your local team to support a risky project or decision, admit Whose “Schuld” (fault) it was, when something did not quite go right, is an important question in German culture. Paradoxically, most people here won’t admit it when they screw up – but they admire others when they admit mistakes. Unless you think doing so could seriously affect how competent your team views you, you’ll want to be candid and factual about mistakes you make.
  6. Explain risks and their consequences. – Risk taking is not exactly a popular activity in Germany. The aversion to risk becomes even stronger when the consequences of failure are unclearit’s risky and spend some time talking about what happens if it does not succeed. Don’t worry – doing so will not be perceived as being negative.
  7. Invite team members to be proactive. – Especially when they don’t know you well yet, Germans can seem reserved and reactive. If they are inexperienced in their job, this may not change soon. With all others, however, it is best to encourage them to take initiative whenever they deem it appropriate to do so. Competent employees here work most effectively when given a fair degree of control over their work. Contrary to popular (mis)perception, micro management won’t get you far with a German team!
  8. Pay attention to hierarchies when it comes to decision making. – While a certain degree of self-organization is common among work teams, decision making authority is usually clearly defined. Invest the time and energy to find out who is supposed to decide what. Stepping over this line can jeopardize relationships and trigger harsh responses.
  9. Don’t hype. – “Übertreibung” (hyperbole/exaggeration) rarely helps in this country. Telling your team that a colleague is ‘amazing’, an idea is the ‘greatest ever’ or that the company is the ‘best in the world’ is unlikely to trigger more than skepticism. People might even start ridiculing you behind your back for it. Sober, factual statements about what is impressive tend to work far better.
  10. Be sincere at work and socialize afterwards. – Many Germans like socializing and partying with their colleagues – but not while working. Lunches and other breaks are great opportunities to get to know your team better, as are after-work parties and other such gatherings. Don’t miss them!

Next! To expand your knowledge and skills in working with Germans and other cultures in global teams, request more resources and contact Charis at info@chariscorp.com or call U.S. 925.931.0555.

 


One thought on “The “Post-Wall Generation” – Do You Know Your Team in Germany?

  • Petra Chequer

    Being a German, having gone through the German educational system and having worked for and with German leadership, I could not agree more. Great insights into how to best lead and motivate German teams and their individual team members. Thank you!

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