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Effective leadership techniques begin with a committed manager and a strong team. Involving each person in the process, building on individual strengths, allow the process to grow and flourish. The Ge

2009-01-01
by

 :: Career News

Effective leadership techniques begin with a committed manager and a strong team. Involving each person in the process, building on individual strengths, allow the process to grow and flourish. The German workplace is built on clear roles; this management style fulfils that need as well as allowing employees greater creativity, motivation and success.


Managing Innovative Teams in Germany

By Sandy Weiner

While directive management is the most common approach in Germany, it is the least effective for enabling innovation and project management in most environments. However, there needs to be a clear understanding of the vision of the project—what is expected to be achieved. With the many complex issues that exist in multi-cultural teams, it is essential that each person participating work towards and internalizes their part in the vision.  With the complexity of projects today, it is unlikely that one person can hold all the answers.  A highly skilled leader will be able to bring a team together, ask the right questions and then provide the space for them to work through the solutions and decide who will take on what roles based on their strengths and project needs.  This requires a visionary manager who expects his staff to take an idea and run with it.

Managers in Germany today are likely to notice that the team is comprised of broad cross-section of cultures. Motivating these teams can be challenge, not only from a cultural standpoint, but from the different interpretations of language.  The management style employed can greatly influence the effectiveness and cohesiveness of the team.  It can also affect its retention rate and the ability for the team to be innovative. A management style and tools that bridges cultural differences and engages employees so that decisions are made with wholistic perspective can be the difference between success and failure as a manager, while at the same time spurring a high level of innovation and commitment to implementation.  The synergistic impact of a wholistic, collaborative management is historically a strong foundation for healthy, creative teams.

This approach enables the team to cut across cultural boundaries and bring out the strengths of each person. However, it is likely to be some resistance at first. Germans, in particular, have a management style that is not only directive, but also consensus driven.  It is rare for a manager to move ahead with a decision without first gaining peer level and team consensus.  It is also not uncommon for staff to discuss issues and extensively exchange views about what should be done—sometimes even progressing to heated discussions.  While these discussions may generate some solutions, it has customarily been up to the manager to decide what path to take. This type of approach often creates strong stands, but not often common ground. The result has been that many staff become frustrated because the environment is not structured in a way for them to build on their ideas as a team then run with them.

The lack of successful business innovation that sometimes is attributed to Germans is most definitely not due to a lack of creativity or motivation. On the contrary, most Germans have many ideas and a strong desire to succeed. What is missing is the ability to transfer these ideas in a profitable way to the market.  There is a clear separation between creation and involving the (potential) stakeholders in the process.

When Ford Motor Company restructured in the 1980s, King Chapman Broussard and Gallagher, a human resource consulting firm, focused on the mission and vision of Ford’s management before defining how to restructure.  They moved Ford from the typical “smokestack” departments that did not communicate with each other to creating cross-functional project teams. The turnaround in Ford’s business based on the structure, enhanced communication and employee empowerment grew exponentially. More importantly, Ford produced new model cars in record time and returned to profitability.

On the other hand, Aetna Life and Casualty chose to re-engineer each of its divisions separately with limited perspective to the future when restructuring. Could this have influenced Aetna’s standing from one of the top five largest financial institutions world-wide to its current status?

Managing cross-cultural teams adds an additional challenge and further drives the need for more stakeholder communication and involvement. Moreover, a collaborative approach will generate a greater degree not only of innovation, but innovation with a clear connection to market needs with a development cycle that is rapid and highly energized.  Due the nature of this approach, the German need to have clear roles will also be satisfied and roles will be based on each member’s strengths and interest, further enhancing the effectiveness of the process.

If collaborative, consensus-driven approaches are so effective, why do so many projects fail? First, after employees have taken the risk to generate new ideas and solutions, their ideas are often put on hold, which lowers their trust in management. Secondly, it may take about six months to start seeing significant results in large scale projects and the plug is pulled before they reach fruition. While the start-up time can be a bit slow, the energy continues to grow and the results generated are very powerful. Employees have to adjust to the change and feel that management is standing behind them. Finally, when employees define the direction and begin to take the lead, there is often limited support from management to move ahead or a safe place they can discuss the personal effects of their roles. Germans, in many ways, is no different than most other cultures. They need time to discuss the situation, be involved in the decision making process, have a clear understanding of their role and then must have the support from upper management to move forward.

Using a consensus or common ground building project planning techniques is critical. It makes it easier to involve cross-cultural staff in the decision making process, which also greatly enhances the chances of successful outcomes. It also provides a good basis for continued change with minimum stress. However, employees need to know that the manager is committed to this process, someone they can trust as they learn and grow. It may not be easy to begin to create safe space, let go and trust until there is some experience with the magnitude of the results.

As a visionary manager with the ability to engage your staff in this way, your leadership style will not only be effective in Germany but nearly anywhere you go.

About Author

Sandy Weiner, Master Certified Coach, Partner of 1-Focus International providing coaching and customer-driven strategic innovation facilitation.  1-Focus’s goal is to tap individual and organizational passion by designing customized programs to meet the needs of our clients in local European languages. www.one-focus.org. Sandy provides 1-on-1, team and group coaching, supervision and is the author of two motivation and organizational change training manuals, numerous coaching, management and organizational change articles. Sandy.weiner@one-focus.org.

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