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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Belgium

The guide below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Belgium.

It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Belgian employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

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

The Role of a Manager

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

  • Managing 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 working 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 with respect to position.
  • Since they are a private people, Belgians 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 tolerance 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.
  • Facts are important in building the case for change.

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?

  • Missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence.
  • Building trust depends on an 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.
  • In Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium), decisions are group or consensus focused.
  • In Wallonia (the 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

Belgians are relatively direct communicators, but they prefer subtlety to bluntness. Belgians are formal in their business communication, but they are also friendly and welcoming.

  • 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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