Knowledge transfer in the USA

There are a few differences between the German and American business cultures that can cause misunderstandings. That’s why, with the help of a specific case study, we want to more closely examine the topic of the transfer of knowledge in today’s blog post.

In the following section, you’ll find the description of a business situation that could easily crop up over the course of your German-American collaboration. Read it carefully, and think about what could have gone wrong. You’ll find the solution and important background information in the next section. Good luck!

The case study

The Germans Alex and Thomas are working closely with the Americans John and Brian on an IT project, and the Germans are in charge of management. All the team members get together on a regular basis to hold discussions during meetings. The first meeting is coming up in which the Germans need to announce important information and decisions regarding further collaboration. Alex and Thomas have prepared intensively for this meeting.

They have created a comprehensive presentation in which they explain their professional backgrounds, what tasks they’re in charge of in this project and why they made the decisions they made regarding their collaboration. Alex and Thomas want John and Brian to be informed about all the details so that they can understand the decisions as well as possible. Over the course of their presentation, however, they get the impression that their American colleagues are less and less interested in what’s being said.

For instance, the Americans appear impatient and frequently look at the clock. After a certain amount of time, they even interrupt Alex and Thomas’s presentation several times. What do you think? How can the American colleagues’ behavior be explained? Take your time and think about it before reading on!

The background

USA, cross-cultural training, knowledge transfer, case study, KISSIt appears as though John and Brian are completely uninterested. In fact, the problem in this situation is the comprehensiveness of the explanations. Unlike in Germany, elaborate presentations and details are less important in the USA. The reverse tends to be the case, as most Americans place much more value on short, concise announcements of information and decisions.

Alex and Thomas’s desire to describe things as comprehensively as possible was unfortunately misplaced in this case. They should rather have reduced their presentation to the essentials. At the end of the day, John and Brian only really care about the information and decisions, and not necessarily the paths that led to them. In specialist circles, this is known as the KISS principle: Keep It Short and Simple. So if you ever find yourself in a situation in which you have to announce information or decisions to Americans, get to the point quickly.

You should nevertheless be prepared for any potential questions and discussions. Just because you should keep it short doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be spared intensive discussions on the content. It’s also important to make the presentation entertaining. Don’t express yourself in a too complicated manner, keep the atmosphere light, use some graphics and don’t forget that a little humor and charisma never hurt!

As you can see, the devil is in the details, and the details can significantly influence international collaboration. If you want to learn more about American culture or common business practices, we recommend our cross-cultural training on the USA. This can include intensive discussions on important topics, such as dealing with American employees, contacting customers or leading negotiations. Please get in touch with us, and we’ll be happy to help!


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About Sophie Humpisch

I studied business communication and cross-cultural competence. During my studies I lived abroad for a long time and therefore experienced cross-cultural differences on my own. I have been with Eidam & Partner since 2014, being responsible for the support and recruiting of cross-cultural experts. Eidam & Partner offers worldwide services related to cross-cultural communication, such as cross-cultural training, cross-cultural coaching, eLearning and preparation for international assignments for more than 80 target countries.
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