The devil is often in the details when it comes to international teamwork, especially if the partners have already been working together successfully for a long time. The second part of our series covers the small but important differences you should keep in mind with regard to teamwork with the French.
In our last blog post, we already covered the first fundamental questions regarding team collaboration with the French. In the second part of our series, we want to come to grips with processes involving international project work with French participants. We specifically want to sensitize you to the cultural differences regarding planning, making decisions, agreeing to goals and dealing with information.
As anyone who has ever worked with Germans knows, most of them have a penchant for extensive and detailed planning phases before a project really gets started. This approach is meant to reduce the emergence of potential problems in the future. In France, on the other hand, less value is placed on extensive preparation. Processes, contents, etc. tend to be adjusted continually whenever it seems necessary to do so. This smaller amount of time spent planning is meant to prevent the competition from gaining the lead. This point often causes confusion on both sides when starting a joint project, so keep this difference in the back of your mind!
Rethinking concerning making decisions
Another component of international collaboration is decision making. Some foreigners who come to France assume that there will be a certain right of co-determination, that decision phases will be short and that decisions that have been made and goals that have been defined are considered to be final. Not so with the French: Often, they are happy to rethink decisions that have been made and to flexibly adapt to current circumstances without hesitation.
To most French, making decisions does not mean carving them in stone; decision-making is rather seen as a process. Last-minute changes to procedures are consequently not uncommon – so it would be best to brace yourself for this behavior. Related to this is the fact that the involvement of non-specialist opinions is considered to be beneficial and is thus common practice in the French business world. So show a certain degree of flexibility when it comes to making decisions and defining goals. It’ll ultimately help you!
Another tip with regard to meetings: In France, these are primarily used to exchange ideas and thoughts. The focus tends to be on discussing different opinions rather than achieving a particular result. At your next team meeting, keep your French colleagues’ divergent expectations in mind!
Need information? Take the initiative!
You should probably also reconsider how to deal with information. While in other European countries, information is often relayed without asking, the tendency is exactly the opposite in France. Everyone there is responsible for obtaining the information they need. For your teamwork with the French, we consequently recommend addressing this difference and agreeing on a comprehensive approach beforehand. This will help you achieve clarity and avoid misunderstandings.
Keep in mind that a lot of French people also discuss things in more informal ways [for instance, before an official meeting or during a meal together after work]. Informal networks tend to play a more important role in business in France than they do in other countries.
As you can see, teamwork always involves some hurdles that need to be overcome. Please keep in mind, that the last two blog posts are merely an introduction to this topic. And remember that THE ONE French person does not exist. There are always differences within the population of a certain culture.
If you would like further information on our offerings, take a look at our website. There you’ll find a list of our seminar topics for your custom cross-cultural training.