July 4th in Manhattan

Bob lives with his German-born wife, Katarina, and their two children in Manhattan. When the holidays approach Katarina often invites over a few German ex-patriate friends – Ingrid, as well as Heinz and Petra. Bob invites his sister, Ann, as well as an old college friend, Larry and his wife, Mary. 

All highly educated and informed people, conversation naturally gravitates towards current events, politics and society. The last time they were all together, however, the atmosphere became a little tense, turning into a competition of opinions. Larry and Mary felt uncomfortable and left early. Katarina and Bob argued in front of their guests. Ingrid and Heinz found the Americans a bit too senstive.

July 4th is coming up. Bob and Katarina want to have another party and again invite their American and German friends. But this time they decided to take a new approach, sending out invitations, with Bob providing insight for their German guests about how Americans communicate, and Katarina doing the same for their American guests about how Germans communicate. They wrote it in a humorous fashion: “Everything you always wanted to know about those crazy Americans … crazy Germans.”

What would you write to the German guests about how your culture communicates?

Who forgot the nails?

You’re quite the handyman. As a teenager you built your own tree fort. You’re an adult now, married, three young children, just moved into a home built in the 1950s, offering all sorts of opportunities to apply your natural talent. 

You decide to build an outdoor deck. The spring is approaching and you simply can’t wait to get started. However, time is limited. The project’s success will depend on farsighted planning and disciplined execution. 

You’ll need an architect. Fortunately, your sister-in-law has an architect neighbor who designs houses and will create the plan. Because you’re particular about materials you want to purchase them from a specialty supplier. 

Thirdly, you’ll need some help. A few of the college-aged young men will be back in the neighborhood at the end of May. You’ll line them up as helpers. Lastly, you want your wife to keep the children away from the action so that folks can work without distraction.

So, you have more than a handful of things to organize and then to coordinate. And this means entering into and monitoring individual agreements with different kinds of people: the architect, the materials suppliers, the neighborhood college-guys, your wife. And all of this on a daily basis over several weeks.

What is key to entering into and managing those agreements? 

I’d present it like this.

You, an American, work in a transatlantic team which has come up with a creative approach to a difficult technical problem within the company. But, you need some serious funding. Your German team lead, Uwe, will present the solution to very senior management in the U.S. 

You have a good sense for how these American managers think. At the same time, you have listened to dozens of German presentations, and are quite familiar with how Uwe lines up his arguments. There is the potential for a disconnect. You hint at this to Uwe. He is open to your advice. 

What would be your advice to Uwe about how to be persuasive in your business culture? 

Tommy needs a car

The summer is just around the corner. You and your spouse don’t want to continue driving your son, Tommy (age 18), and his two younger sisters around town to their various activities. Since Tommy has a driver’s license and drives responsibly, the two of you will sit down together on Sunday evening and plan your search for a reliable, safe and economical used car.

Map out the decision making process in your culture: key factors, information gathering, information analysis, steps and their sequence, schedule, budget, possible involvement of Tommy.

Effective leadership means

You and your colleagues have a new boss, Susan Steel, an American. Some of you know of Susan, a few have met her at company conferences, but none have worked directly with or for her.

Because Susan wants to quickly get oriented, she has invited each of her direct reports for a one-to-one talk per video. She would like to understand the expectations of her as the team lead, but also communicate her views about the optimal working relationship between team lead and team.

You are one of Susan’s direct reports. You want to help her understand what makes for an optimal working relationship between a team lead and team in your culture. What do you say to Susan?

A walk with your daughter

Your twelve-year old daughter, Emma, walks off the soccer field, her head hanging low. Her team just lost a 2-1 heartbreaker. Emma plays goaltender. Giving up two goals is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, she blocked at least four shots on goal, two of which would have gone in against a less capable goaltender. On the other side, had Emma positioned herself better, she could have blocked one of the two goals scored against her team.

So, all in all Emma played well. But your young girl is ambitious. She wants to win and, like you, is overly self-critical. You know that giving her feedback after the game is not the right approach. You wait until after dinner later in the week, when the two of you take your young dog, Rex, a Weimaraner. It’s still summer. The days are long.

You’re out for the walk with Emma and begin giving her feedback. What is the underlying logic in how your culture would give feedback in this situation?

“Turn down that noise !”

The courts are so full of disputes between neighbors that community mediators are being asked to resolve the conflicts. A member of the mayor’s staff in your town has asked you to get involved. 

You’ve lived in the town for many years, are respected and involved in various activities. You go through the two-day training, then are given your first case. Apparently, the teenaged Johnson boys and their heavy metal rock band have been hitting ever higher decibel levels in their basement studio.

Louise (63) and Richard Moser (65), next door neighbors to the Johnsons, have called the police a half dozen times and are threatening now with a lawyer. It’s a nice neighborhood. Folks get along fairly well. The Johnson boys are good kids, but a bit high-energy.

Their parents, both working, are busy. Maybe they don’t have their boys under control. Who knows? The Mosers, solid citizens even if at times overly critical, moved into one of the first homes on the block decades ago and raised three children of their own. The Johnsons moved in just a few years ago. 

Your task is to resolve this dispute. What will be your approach? Describe the steps, their sequence, what is critical to success.

History and Technology

You’ve been selected to advise the director of the new Museum of Industry, generously financed by large corporations. 

Although you were trained as a mechanical engineer, and have over twenty years of experience in product development, you also think as a historian. History was your favorite subject in high school. And your mother was a university Professor of History.

You were chosen to advise the director because your concept for the museum recommended a comparative approach. Over the years you’ve worked closely with colleagues, customers and suppliers from many countries. You are very aware of how different product philosophies can be. 

You have been asked to design the first major exhibit communicating the essentials of your culture’s fundamental product philosophy. Recommend one product which is best communicates your country culture’s product philosophy. What is the product? Why does it eximplify the product philosophy of your business culture?

A Little Process Handbook

You’re a high-level attorney, a single parent raising two girls: Marie 15, Anna 12. You and your girls live in a lovely home in the suburbs with a large yard. The summers are hot, humid, often rainy. The grass needs to be cut once a week. It’s time for Marie to take over mowing the lawn.

It’s a little tricky, though. Tree roots pop up in unexpected spots. There is lots of mowing around bushes. The winds at night leave twigs strewn across the lawn. Tiny stones can shoot off like bullets into all sorts of directions. And the powerful mower is to be handled carefully. You need to explain to Marie how to cut the lawn efficiently, and without injuring herself or anyone else.

Because you can type fast, you pull out your laptop computer in order to write a process description for Marie. What will that little process handbook look like: topics, sequence of chapters, length, depth, etc.? 

Win-Win or Win-Lose

A well-known business consultant and author is writing a book about how companies establish and maintain long-term business relationships in a fast-paced, global economy.

One of the chapters will compare the approaches of different countries. You‘ve agreed to be interviewed because you manage your company‘s most critical collaborative business relationships.

What would you say to the author about how your business culture builds and maintains business relationships? What is the natural progression? What is critical to their success? What can ruin a business relationship?