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Cross Cultural Management Guide - Belgium 

 

What will you Learn in this Guide?

In this guide, expatriate managers will gain an understanding of a number of key cross cultural areas when working in Belgium:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling 
  • Communication and Negotiation style

 

Gain an Expert Understanding:

Once you've read this guide, ensure the success of your Belgian business venture by: 

  • Taking part in a two hour live webinar, customised to meet your unique needs, with one of our Belgium country and culture training experts or;
  • Contacting us in respect to our Belgium consultancy services. 

 

The Role of a Manager

The business set up in Belgium is generally hierarchical, but depending on international influences of the company itself, it may be far more egalitarian. How does this play out in the workplace?

  • 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.
  • Belgian employees typically adhere to established rules of protocol for most situations and expect others to do the same.
  • Employees generally respect corporate hierarchy and those who are senior to them in respect to 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, bear in mind that due to a preference for work/life balance, it is unlikely that you will be able to 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.
  •  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. Communication within a team is typically fairly 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 is generally deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, but they do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas. 

 

Approach to Change

Belgium’s intercultural tolerance and readiness for change is medium. What impact does this preference have on the workplace?

  • Changes are made, albeit slowly, and require considerable amount of thought, planning and evaluation.
  • Changes are rarely made impetuously or embraced without first being reviewed in detail.

 

Approach to Time and Priorities

Belgium is a controlled-time culture and adherence to schedules is important and expected. How does this impact the workplace?

  •  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.

 

Decision Making

Belgians are accustomed to centralized decision-making based upon information that has been gathered by all concerned parties, meaning that:

  • 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.

 

Communication and Negotiation Styles

  • 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. 
  • Negotiations are direct however pushing for an immediate decision is seen as aggressive and will backfire.  Allow your Belgian counterparts to take the time needed to view the necessary information and to establish feedback from key stakeholders. 

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