4 insights into overseas work mentalities

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Living and working in foreign countries is a funny thing. We hop on a 2h flight across Europe and think we are aware and respectful about cultural differences or that at least we will learn to adapt shortly. But do we really?
I recently joined a French company here in Spain to work for their German team which made me think about differences in working mentalities: I have worked in international teams across 7 countries over the past 15 years and definitely find some mentalities easier to work with than others. Take meeting styles as an example. In my opinion they give a great insight into the local work mentality and their specific attitudes in an office environment. Before picking your next job abroad, read these 4 concise insights into overseas meeting styles in Europe:

In the United Kingdom I experienced meetings as rather cheerful, with a respectful open mind to discuss related subjects and to encourage an exchange of opinions which I felt was in line with their general work mentality.
An agenda is shared in advance and usually the person who is chairing the meeting will review all items to ensure progress has been made and arising matters are dealt with. I always liked the fact that this is not necessarily done by the boss or an authority but often rotating equally between team members. If decision objectives have not been met a follow up meeting is often agreed right away which is not a given in many other countries. Sure, some time may be spent on topics off the agenda, but equally there’s room to express an opinion for everyone.

In contrast Germany has a much more authoritative approach. Business is hierarchical and decisions are clearly taken by the higher level. Meetings aim to take decisions rather than being an open forum of discussion. Decision making is generally very slow and extremely detail-oriented and it often requires several meetings. Divergent opinions are not exactly welcome and may be discussed in direct tones and straight to the point. However the boss is rarely contradicted publicly. Don’t expect compliments either.
Meetings usually don’t start without the boss or highest ranked person, one of which will most likely chair the meeting following the agenda, while an assistant is expected to write the minutes. Well, I’ve never been much of a fan of working in Germany. One is expected to function efficiently as told. 😉

In France meetings tend to discuss issues encouraging an exchange of thoughts rather than making decisions. Decisions are taken before or after the meeting following consideration of gathered information and opinion. The agenda is not strictly to be followed and the third point on the agenda may well be addressed first if it fits better into conversation.
The first few minutes are often used to confirm the purpose of the meeting and clearing questions beforehand. Direct and probing questions are not unusual. Compliments are welcome. I always liked that women are often treated with special respect 😉
As is Germany, the meeting usually doesn’t start without the highest ranking person, however the inviting person will choose the moment to start when he thinks it’s right. Don’t be fooled by its formal politeness, it is highly competitive.

Spain doesn’t really seem to have such a meeting culture. In my opinion it is the most relaxed country of them all, in fact I have never seen a meeting starting on time. Meetings often begin with general catching up as personal relationships play an important role. If agendas are used at all they are not necessarily to be followed – as it might be seen as hindering creativity. Decisions aren’t made during the meeting, which is more seen as an exchange of ideas and room for discussion.
Most Spanish people won’t admit to having any difficulties in front of others. I guess the Spanish pride might even encourage them to communicate a nicer picture.

For more details, check out this website with plenty of more in depth info.

In which countries have you worked and what were your experiences?


I have been a traveller and expat for over 15 years. So far my nomad lifestyle has allowed me to live and work in seven countries including the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Australia. Moving country, studying abroad and a passion for travel has been part of most of my adult life.

4 thoughts to “4 insights into overseas work mentalities”

  1. Practical perspectives ! They are useful to guess what partners could expect from that meetings. I have international meetings and I agree with these points. I would add some funny experiences with Skype calls, problems with conections, people who get lost during the meeting, etc. Most times Skype calls are a waste of time since people just do some kind of brain storming instead of focusing on clear idea.

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