Task-masters and Problem-Solvers

Just as “thorough” is something of a mantra here, another word you will hear quite often is “Ordnung”, as in structure, or order. Germany, you will soon find, is a country with a raft of rules and procedures that govern many aspects of the economy, politics and even social spheres. Germans do not generally find these rules confining, but rather an accepted set of common beliefs and practices which make life more predictable. In German business culture, this is reflected in adherence to prescribed rules with a relatively low degree of flexibility and spontaneity.

As opposed to those cultures which are relations-oriented, German society is resoundingly task-oriented. Germans tend to focus on achieving the task at hand. This, coupled with their well-defined structures, means that inter-personal relationships can play a secondary role in business dealings. In terms of project management, Germans tend to focus on task-oriented aspects such as timetables, milestones and budgets. If you do come from one of the more relations-oriented societies, you will have to adjust.

Related to task-orientation is the fact that Germany is a problem-oriented society. Germans tend to approach most tasks as problems. In the business context, this means they often wait for something to manifest itself as a problem and then set themselves to solving that problem. Which, of course, means the process of problem-solving can be quite intense indeed.

All of which reflects another aspect of the German character – Germans tend to be reactive rather than proactive. Neither risk-takers nor pioneers, they rarely define a problem looming on the horizon and then stalk a solution to it the way some Asians or North Americans would. When problems arise, they mobilize vigorously to solve them, but are not always the first to take the initiative.

The Germans are, however, great advocates of procedure – they always want to know the rules of the game and want to see these rules on paper – or at least clearly stated. One American consultant who worked on a number of key projects with big German companies reported encountering difficulties in the first day or two because he had failed to make a clear statement of exactly how the project was going to proceed. Few Germans take kindly to the notion of allowing a project, or much else, to develop organically. They much prefer the security of a set plan or contract.

Germans see contracts as the final word, the end of negotiations. When they start work on a project, the contract for that project is like holy writ. For many peoples, especially those from Asian cultures, the contract may be just the beginning of serious negotiations. Many top people in German companies still express frustration or irritation with clients from Middle Eastern and Asian firms who the Germans feel are trying to re-jig signed contracts – something the Germans have difficulty dealing with.