The Chinese-German team
ROBERT GIBSON demonstrates how a German-Chinese team can face intercultural problems — and explains how to deal with them, and how to avoid them.
On the surface, this highly successful joint venture in the electronics industry is going well. Research and development (R&D) is based in Germany, and production is based in China. The business is starting to be profitable. But tensions develop in the team, and an external consultant is brought in to analyse the situation. This is what she reports after interviewing representatives from both sides. Think about what advice you would give to each team and then compare your comments with ours on the last page.
The German manager's view of the Chinese
"We are impressed by our ambitious Chinese colleagues and their speedy reactions. They seem keen to learn and are very open-minded. What is not so good is that they aren't prepared to take responsibility or follow agreed procedures. They think in a hierarchical way and there is very little horizontal communication. They seem reluctant to take the initiative or make independent decisions. Recently, they have started to turn up late to meetings or not come at all. When we ask them about a problem, they often beat about the bush, and it is very difficult to know what they are really thinking. They smile politely and say yes, but don't do anything. I wish they'd put their cards on the table and tell us directly if they have a problem with something. We've hired quite a few new Chinese colleagues but, although they have excellent qualifications on paper, we've been disappointed with their performance. The other issue is loyalty. We hire them, train them and then they leave and join one of our competitors."
The Chinese manager's view of the Germans
"The Germans are excellent planners, and they think very logically. We like their focus on quality and their disciplined, straightforward approach. They like China and clearly enjoy themselves when they come to see us in Shanghai. On the other hand, they don't seem to trust us. They don't give us any real responsibility. Instead, they set up complicated processes that just slow everything down and stop us from reaching our targets. They waste time with too many meetings. They are never available when we need them - you can rarely get them at the weekend and they often seem to be away on holiday. If we can't get an answer to our questions quickly, we have a problem with the deadlines that they have set for us and keep insisting on. Also, some of the team have been shocked by the way the Germans behave in their free time in China. Maybe there are too many temptations in Shanghai. They complain about the Chinese stealing Western know-how but, at the same time, if they have a few hours free before their flight to Germany, they go to the fake market and buy watches and clothing for their family and friends."