Teamwork with the French – Part 1

We want to devote this and the next blog post to the topic of teamwork with French team members. Here are the initial questions we intend to answer: What do French people understand by the term “teamwork”? What needs to be kept in mind with regard to direct conversations? How can you “score points” on a private level as well?

While most Germans or Americans understand teamwork to include practical collaboration, the equal commitment of every team member and clearly defined spheres of responsibility, the French tend to see things differently.

In France, teamwork means making a specific contribution. Responsibilities are not always explained very clearly. Short-term involvement in other projects or in other fields is consequently not unusual for many French people, which can often cause confusion among international team members. While cooperation within a team tends to be important to Germans, Americans or Indians, the French are more fond of contributions to the team. Please keep this fundamental difference in mind!

Be tactful during discussions!

Varying communication behaviors often cause misunderstandings within international teams. Some cultures tend to get to the point quickly and without embellishment, which most French people find unfriendly and infantilizing.

In France, topics are approached slowly at first, and they tend to be considered from all sides before ultimately being carefully addressed. French people consequently communicate in a rather roundabout way in order not to steamroll their discussion partners [especially when it comes to critical issues]. Take this into consideration when you communicate with your French team members. Also try to understand things which are not explicitly said; pay attention to intonation and non-verbal signals [such as gestures and facial expressions], and try to exercise restraint yourself when it comes to getting right to the point.

It’s also important to know that French people tend to be quite emotional. This means that more value is placed on the establishment of trusting relationships with business partners, colleagues, etc. in France. For your collaboration with French team members, we consequently recommend “scoring points” on a private level before getting down to business. So have a chat [e.g., about family, food, travel or hobbies], be respectful of each other and don’t forget that a little humor can go a long way!

Don’t be afraid to speak French!

At last, we would like to give you a few more tips to help you along your path toward achieving a successful team collaboration with your French colleagues:

  • French people are often very proud of their native language and would in all likelihood be pleased if you exchange a few words with them in French [Bonjour = Hello; Ça va? = How’s it going?; Merci beaucoup = Thanks a lot; Au revoir = Goodbye]. It’s a small gesture that can have a big impact. If you show goodwill, your French team members will certainly appreciate it.
  • When making decisions, many French people much prefer constructive debate to harmonious consensus-building. Be ready for open discussions and try to utilize this “friction” in a way that benefits your team’s goals.
  • Don’t always confine yourself to the office to talk about job-related issues with your team colleagues. In France, it’s common to combine relevant topics and pleasant experiences by ducking into a restaurant. Don’t rush though! Take your time – both with your food and with your private and work-related conversations.

As you’ve learned from the first part of this blog series, there are a few things to keep in mind with regard to team collaboration with the French. In the second part, we intend to provide you with additional information on this exciting topic. In the meantime, feel free to familiarize yourself with our offering of cross-cultural trainings. You’ll find a list of possible topics at the following link.


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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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