From the Farnham Castle – Intercultural Training Archives
Doing business in Europe is easy, isn’t it?
Having a prepared intercultural business approach for you and your team is a small investment compared to the financial commitments at stake when managing a multi-national project in Europe.
It would seem that the British and the Dutch should have more in common with the Swedish and the Germans than with the Japanese, yes? Even though London might be less than 45 minutes away from Amsterdam and Rome is less than two hours away (oh, can you imagine, in less than three hours you could be in Rome! Anyway, where was I? oh yes,) the differences between European countries and their cultural approach to doing business can and frequently are underestimated.
It is easy to believe that, armed with a good list of “do’s and don’ts”, a friendly chat with a knowledgeable colleague on appropriate behaviour, a little knowledge of the language and a copy of the Eyewitness Guide for your business destination, you will be able to manage any business situation in Europe; after all, we are close neighbours and ‘they all speak English, don’t they?’.
Well, it can definitely help, especially if you are planning on going there for a two-week holiday but when it comes to business it is frankly not enough and the chances are that you and your European colleagues will still experience frustrating situations, misunderstandings and feelings of dismay, which will seriously affect your business relationship with your colleagues, your partners or even worse your paying clients.
Many new mergers, business ventures and multinational projects fail precisely because those involved have a lack of cultural understanding and failed to plan to address those obvious ‘when you think about it’ differences.
Not as simple as “do’s and don’ts”
It is useful to know that you may have to address your German colleague as Herr Doktor Muller, but if you do not place this into the wider concepts of “status” and “power” in German business, you may expose yourself to a lot of costly misunderstandings. Such notions as time, equality, authority, egality, power and freedom… are perceived very differently across Europe (further reading on the differences of word meaning across cultures can be found here).
There is no ‘European Way’ to do business
Each nation has cultural values which are passed down from generation to generation through their parents, the education system, peers, their senior manager and other role models, not to mention the media and the fact that, that is just the way that business has always been done. These historical cultural practices shape our social and business behaviours and quite often if not understood and addressed, can be the beginning of the end for your European venture.
There is no ‘European way’ to do business; Leadership styles, organisational structures and communications are a clear reflection of these cultural values and business expectations are so very different from country to country.
Something as simple as a ‘meeting’ for example, means something very different to your colleagues from Denmark compared to the expectations of your colleagues from Spain. For strong hierarchy oriented countries of Southern Europe, a ‘meeting’ is a way to pass down information for implementation. By contrast in the more consensus driven countries of Northern Europe a ‘meeting’ is more a way to discuss the possible options and collaboratively make decisions.
If executives of various countries are seated at the same table (or not if you are video conferencing or hosting a webinar), those who are not culturally aware will, in most cases, come out of the meeting frustrated, criticising each-others ‘strange’ way of conducting business at a ‘meeting’. Now imagine what would happen when it came to business critical issues such as problem solving, decision-making, negotiating, delegating, motivating, team-working, work ethic, setting aims and objectives and collaborative strategies.
I know what you’re thinking….*I am only 3 hours from Rome, I haven’t had a vacation in months*…stop it, listen, it is not all doom and gloom, we can help and you can definitely help yourself.
Reducing the risk of a cultural or commercial “faux-pas”
Understanding the foundations of value differences and the principles of cultural adaptation of your colleagues can seriously improve the likelihood that a new or existing business relationship will succeed and grow. Expatriates or frequent business travellers are not the only ones exposed to potential cultural “faux-pas”. Today’s globalised business world and the opportunities across European boundaries to conduct business means that it is not just executives involved in multinational projects that are affected, to be honest we all have someone in our team from a culturally diverse background.
Increasing Multicultural Synergies
The use of e-mail and conference calls, social media and remote connectivity can multiply the issues. Developing cultural awareness and related skills at all levels of management will reduce potential failures considerably but they can also contribute substantially to the bottom line. Turning our negative European stereotypes into a positive attitude towards cultural diversity can improve profitability, open new opportunities, create new synergies and lead to a thriving European business venture. If well managed, the cultural diversity of Europe can be your strength and bring tremendous dividends to any organisation that is willing and able to take advantage of all that awaits us in beautiful historic Europe.
So, being ‘different’ is not so bad after all but only if you know how these rich differences can be turned into your corporate advantage, don’t get left behind, train for the future.
- Farnham Castle is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading providers of Intercultural Business Training and Global Mobility Programmes