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German management style guide

Cross Cultural Management Guide for Germany


The details offered below are for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Germany.


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

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Approach to Time
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation


Being a Manager in Germany

The business culture in Germany is formal with a hierarchy based on technical expertise and experience.  You must be prepared for a host of regulations, guidelines, and principles covering every aspect of conducting business in Germany. Additional considerations include:

  • Transparency and respect for accurate detail are very important .
  • You are likely to find, in this respect, that Germans place considerable emphasis on the quality and value of their materials, including excellent presentation. 
  • The Germans tend to be strong critical thinkers and to be open to new ideas and change where needed. 
  • This is a formal culture which believes that 'time is money'.
  • Relationships are clearly defined, which intimates the type of communication and behaviours expected.
  • Some employees in Germany do not feel that they are authorized by station, education, or position to either aspire to leadership or to express themselves freely in management circles.
  • Nevertheless many do, and especially with the influence of globalization, organizations are tending to rely more heavily on the wisdom of their people and not just the direction of leadership.

The Role of a Manager

In German organisations, there is a clear chain of command in each department. Information and instructions are passed downwards. This does not mean, however, that German management is exclusively autocratic. There is also considerable value placed on consensus. Subordinates demonstrate their respect for their supervisors and managers by following their directions to the letter.

  • In return, managers provide explicit directions and ensure their subordinates have the proper materials and understand the appropriate procedures.
  • Productivity and delivery during normal office hours are valued and employees who consistently work outside of these hours are likely to be viewed as failing to manage their time properly.
  • There is often a gulf between managers and their subordinates, although this is less so in newer companies, high-tech, or other high-growth industries.
  • Managers are expected to give precise directions when assigning tasks so that there is no question about what is expected.
  • It is important to note, however, that the workplace culture does not tolerate managers who are overly authoritarian in nature. 
  • Expertise and technical understanding are greatly respected in the workplace.
  • If you work in Germany therefore, then it's not considered immodest to communicate professional expertise or qualifications. 

Approach to Change

Germany’s cultural tolerance for change is low, meaning that social change is difficult to bring about and the idea of it is not received with enthusiasm. The underlying belief is that change may threaten the social fabric.  If you are proposing change then it's important to:

  • Fully detail and outline the underlying benefits and rationale. 
  • Detail this information with figures and numerical facts where possible. 
  • Be prepared to approach all stakeholders to discuss your ideas and to gain their buy-in. 

Approach to Time

Germany is a time-conscious culture, and adherence to schedules is important and expected:

  • In Germany missing a deadline is a sign of poor management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence.
  • People in time-conscious cultures tend to have their time highly scheduled, and it’s generally a good idea to provide and adhere to performance milestones. 
  • If you envisage missing delivery at the agreed time, then be sure to make your counterparts aware of this in advance and to advise when delivery will take place. 
  • Since Germans respect schedules and deadlines, it is not unusual for managers to expect people to work late and even give up weekends in order to meet target deadlines.

Decision Making

It is important to remember that in general, subordinates do not expect their managers to seek their concurrence. Germans tend to be:

  • Comfortable complying with decisions.
  • This may depend upon the industry, the professional level of the employees concerned, and the corporate culture.
  • Germany is undergoing rapid changes which are impacting business life.

Boss or Team Player?

In general, German managers are considered to focus on performance, high autonomy and high employee participation. Managing conflict is also very much part of German leadership culture.

  • Germans like working in teams and collaborate quite well across hierarchical lines.
  • The communication within a team is generally quite collegial, albeit somewhat direct and blunt.
  • 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.
  • Successful management will depend on the individual’s ability 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.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Germans tend to appreciate a straightforward and direct delivery style. They are polite and can be formal when communicating.

  • Germans will also be quite comfortable saying "no" directly when necessary or letting you know when they cannot meet your expectations.
  • To gain control of a conversation, a German will interject into what the other party is saying, or speak over the other parties at a louder volume.
  • To avoid any miscommunication make sure your printed material is available in both English and German.
  • It's essential that this material is presented in a clear, to-the-point way, with relevant detail included.
  • Be careful not to be seen to be cutting corners or compromising rules and regulations when communicating with your German counterparts.
  • Negotiations are transparent, detailed focused affairs, based on facts and essential information.
  • Your counterparts will want to understand your position in detail and explore all potential eventualities.
  • Don't adversely affect your reputation by making outlandish or unfounded claims.

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