In 1986, I joined a start-up company called Microtec Research – an embedded software development tools company. 10 years later, we were acquired by Mentor Graphics, which is how I come to be where I am now. During that first decade, the company grew from twenty-something people [three of us in the UK and the rest in Santa Clara, CA] to around 300, with offices in 7 or 8 countries.
Those were interesting times and I learned a lot about the culture of an international company …
The company was very much centered on the US head office – that is where all the higher management, product experts/management and engineering teams were located. So, naturally, the satellite offices would request support or assistance with sales, marketing and customer relations. I noticed that my colleagues in Germany would commonly request a visit from senior technical guys. In France, however, they were more likely to seek help from the management team. I often wondered why there was this different emphasis.
Then I learned about meetings. I thought that I understood about meetings. A meeting is a situation in which a number of people – who may be peers, but management and “experts” may also be present – get together to discuss stuff. That was my understanding and was broadly correct, but only in the UK/US. It seems that in other countries, the culture dictates that meetings have other purposes. It is a very broad generalization, but, in Germany, a meeting is where you go to hear from the expert; in France, you get to hear from the boss.
I think that the cultural nuances are much more subtle than this, but this gives a flavor. Another aspect of meeting practice comes, I think, from the American culture: this is proactive vs reactive or “push” vs “pull”. I recall that it was very common for the US office to announce that some executive was going to visit Europe and would we please set up some customer meetings. This was, of course, completely pointless. Customers want to have meetings when they have something to discuss, not because it suits their supplier. So, therefore, we preferred the “pull” approach: set up the meeting and request the executive visit.
The result of the first approach was unsatisfactory meetings. This meant that we were less successful at attracting the execs when we needed them. But, somehow, we got by.
So, next time that you are invited to a meeting, think about what the purpose of the meeting is and what your role will be …