Intercultural Management - Belgium
Being a Manager in Belgium
The business set up in Belgium is hierarchical. Cross cultural management is more likely to succeed if you understand the Belgians are formal and courteous. They adhere to established rules of protocol for most situations and expect others to do the same. They respect corporate hierarchy and those who have attained a senior-level position. Since they are a private people, they do not readily mix their private and business lives.
Newcomers to the Belgian management style should carefully study the corporate culture of specific companies because they may vary from being hierarchical to rather egalitarian.
Office hours are generally 8:30 a.m-5:30 p.m. Businesses do not officially close earlier on Fridays but many office workers like to get away early for the weekend. Senior executives tend to work longer hours.
Avoid scheduling meetings in July and August, as many Belgians take vacations during this time. Also, you will not likely conduct business with a Belgian in the evening or on the weekend. This is their private time and they prefer to spend it with their family.
The Role of a Manager
Cross cultural management is more effective when working in Belgium when you understand the Belgians generally like working in teams and collaborate quite well across hierarchical lines. The communication within a team is generally quite collegial, albeit somewhat direct. Role allocation within the team is generally quite clearly defined and people will take greater responsibility for their specific task than for the group as a whole.
The role of the leader is to harness the talent of the group assembled, and develop any resulting synergies. The leader will be deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, but they do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas. Praise should be given to the entire group as well as to individuals.
Approach to Change
Belgium’s intercultural tolerance and readiness for change is medium. Changes are made, albeit slowly, and require considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation.
Approach to Time and Priorities
Belgium is a controlled-time culture and adherence to schedules is important and expected. In Belgium, missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence. Successful cross cultural management will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.
Even though Belgians respect schedules and deadlines, it would be wise not to expect people to work late or give up weekends in order to meet target deadlines.
Belgians are accustomed to centralized decision-making based upon information that has been gathered by all concerned parties. Supervisors and managers make most decisions for their work group, even ones that would be implemented by subordinates in other cultures. When managers delegate their authority, they provide explicit details about what is to be done and how it is to be accomplished.
Since decision-making occurs at the highest levels and each reviewing level is expected to verify that the matter has been researched thoroughly and that all interested parties have been consulted, decision-making can be a time-consuming and laborious process. For cross cultural management to be successful, patience will be needed.
In Flanders (Dutch speaking part of Belgium), decisions are group or consensus focused. In Wallonia (French speaking part of Belgium), business is more hierarchical and the top-ranking person at the meeting makes decisions. The Flemish-speaking businesses tend to be more egalitarian.
Boss or Team Player?
Intercultural adaptability will be easier when bearing in mind how formal and bureaucratic the business set up in Belgium is. Each individual’s role remains clearly defined although global and intercultural expansion means that employees are now beginning to feel that they are authorized by station, education, or position, to either aspire to leadership or to express themselves freely in management circles.
Communication and Negotiation Styles
Successful cross cultural communication will take into account the high regard Belgians place on manners. Regardless of how you are introduced, you must always be polite and well-mannered. This includes shaking hands with everyone you meet, including administrative staff, but men should wait for a woman to extend her hand.
Negotiations are direct however pushing for an immediate decision is seen as aggressive.
Looking for some formal training on working in Belgium? We run a course looking at Working with Belgians which addresses many of these issues above and more.