This is not an article written from the German point of view. It might be tempting to read this article in the light of —“She is German, thus she prefers the German way of doing things”. But this is not true. In fact the reality is just the opposite—I have learnt so much from India that has enriched my personal and professional life.I have adopted the Indian approach of dealing with issues over the past few years and it has helped me in all possible ways.
In my previous article, I expressed my views on why German and Indian startups should work together. As a continuation to the thought, I believe that entrepreneurs from the two countries would make a great team if they keep in mind how to fill the cultural gap between them with a little understanding of the Eastern and Western methods.
Language is not the only barrier one needs to break when seeking professional ties with another country, especially as English has become a great leveler and most entrepreneurial counterparts speak the language albeit with different accents and levels of fluency. If you are a startup founder and are looking to work beyond the boundaries of your country, it is a good idea to be prepared with the business etiquette also of a foreign land. You would be surprised how different they are and how much the small things matter. You would want to make the least mistakes as an entrepreneur when venturing into a new country. Global expansion and cross-border ties are critical to a startup when in a growth mode.
Evidence shows that apart from the economic benefits, Germany and India are also a great cultural-fit. For instance, a few German startups like GoEuro and Dubsmash are run by Indian entrepreneurs. On the other hand, German startups who have ventured into India successfully are Applift, StalkBuyLove and Zeotap.
With my experience of working with German and Indian startups over the last few years, I can share what are the areas where cultural understanding could smoothen procedures and understandings. Here are a few tips on what German entrepreneurs should keep in mind while working with Indian counterparts and vice versa. Being aware of the cultural differences between the two countries can definitely help in creating more cordial and harmonious business relations.
Germans are structured while Indians are flexible
Germans make extensive and detailed business plans, and are extremely structured when it comes to following these plans. They feel uncomfortable to change the structure they already have in mind even if required. Indians, on the other hand, rely a lot on the concept of Jugaad and will come up with quick fixes if a problem occurs and will not be bound by a structure that was initially planned. Their plans are not as detailed. In a situation of crisis, the two teams of Germany and India could make a good combination to solve a problem. One fills the gap of the other.
Meetings and Punctuality
This is an area where one has to be well prepared. Germans are punctual and might feel insulted if they are made to wait. Indians, however , are more understanding and do not mind waiting if the other person is late for a meeting and expect the same understanding if they are late. They are not trying to insult someone by being late. Secondly, Germans plan their calendar way in advance and it is seldom that they cancel any meetings whereas Indians work in a more flexible way where they are open to scheduling and rescheduling meetings even a day prior to the meeting.Thus, Indians should try and plan early if planning a meeting with a German and Germans could try and be more open to rescheduling when in India. Tip for Germans in India: Check more frequently on whether the meeting is still on e.g. a day prior to the meeting. That helps. Tip for Indians: if a meeting has been fixed don’t expect or wait for reminders. Put it on your calendar, diary etc or you may find yourself caught on the wrong foot.
Germans start early and Indians work till late
Germans would ideally start their day early and their first meeting or call can begin as early as 8 am. Reasons could be lesser traffic in Germany and the wish to go back home early and have time to do other things beyond work. Indians would start their day between 9.30 and 10.30 am as that is when they would reach office beating the traffic. Indians would ideally not schedule any calls/meetings before that. Indians work till late and often reply to emails in the middle of the night or do meetings over the weekend which Germans tend to avoid. It would be comfortable to fix afternoon/lunch meetings and mid-week schedules to avoid overflow .
German straightforwardness and Indian diplomacy
If Germans do not approve a business plan, an idea or arrangements of a conference, they will put forward their views in a straightforward manner without mincing words. Indians will not necessarily appreciate this behavior. Even if Indians do not want to work with you or do not like your business ideas, they will not communicate this directly and be much more diplomatic about it. They will take their time to put forward their views if they are negative. Hence, Indians should not think of Germans as rude when they are straightforward with their opinion and Germans should wait before concluding what Indians think about their idea.
The technique of meetings
The idea of a meeting for Germans and Indians might differ slightly. Indians often like to schedule meetings for relationship building which includes small talk and might not have any specific agenda. For instance, if Indians and Germans meet to discuss a PPT, Germans might have read the presentation already and marked it with post-its. Then they might want to use the meeting to discuss open questions. In India, the presentation will highly likely be read in the meeting itself and your Indian counterparts in the meeting might like to understand a bit more about the person they are meeting and maybe even ask some personal questions. Hence, it is always better to discuss expectations of the meeting before-hand when working together or be prepared that this might happen.
Personal and Professional Life
Germans usually do not mix personal and professional life and compartmentalize it well. Germans would not ask personal questions in a professional meeting and business agreements are concluded on the basis of technical points and skills. In India, people need to click and establish trust before a contract is signed. In India, it is thus better to meet in-person more often whereas in a low context culture like German, just having phone calls over a long period is also fine.
Dinner and celebration evenings
On a lighter yet important note, one must understand the dining and celebration culture of the two countries. It is often that you would have to plan a German-Indian dinner and this information can come handy. Germans start an evening party with dinner being served as the first thing and then drinks would be served over a long period, perhaps till midnight. Contrary to Germans, Indians start a dinner party with drinks which continue for long hours and dinner is the last thing served.
Understanding the business ethics of two countries can build a great relationship between entrepreneurs as well as investors of Germany and India.
Note: These examples have been selected as an illustration.