Being exposed to German organizational culture at the very start of your career is probably the best thing that could happen to one young professional.
Why is that the case?
In my humble opinion, the answer is simple: They put learning first.
Why is this so important to me?
If there is one thing that I’m passionate about – it is the ability of learning, both individial and organizational. I’ve studied management and business and currently I work as a project manager.I’ve spent years on discovering and inventing tools for development of people and I still do, on a daily basis.
Since my first year of faculty I’ve been in active collaboration with students, organizations and companies from all over the world, but I still haven’t met business culture that suits my idea of ideal working place better than one in Germany.
Internship Programme of German Business gave me invaluable opportunity to work for six months in GFA Consulting Group, in Hamburg. There I discovered that German business environment follows some basic principles that can help you grow and get the most out of that 8 hours you spend in an office each day.
What is more, Alumni club of this Programme has such networking power (among numerous other benefits) that after my internship I gained job in another German company – twice. First time it was project based (again for six months) and second time brought me to my ongoing employment.
Both experiences confirmed my impressions from Hamburg.
So, what are those miraculous learning principles that I’ve mentioned?
1) Your voice counts, even if you’re an intern.
From day one, each member of my team asked for my opinion on all kinds of topics. I got tasks that only I was responsible for. They always thanked me for completing them, even for the little things.
Each day when I was preparing myself for work, I knew why it is important that I’m there. It’s a really big company, and yet they made sure that I feel my work is valued.
Another wonderful thing about that is – hierarchy is not the most important thing in the office. At one point, new colleague joined our team. They announced him as a great expert and professional that everyone are excited to work with.
Nevertheless, during his first weeks in the company, he had no problem admitting that he needs help to understand the way we work. So he took a chair, sat next to me and literally observed what I was doing. Me, the intern!
I was amazed by lack of his vanity. They simply don’t care about positions as much as they care about knowledge.
2) Mentoring is taken seriously.
For most of the time I spent there, my mentor coached me one-on-one for about 1h per week. Even when we were under time pressure due to all upcoming projects, he would still respect this „appointment“ of ours.
Most often, he would go with me through documents and websites and show me where to find relevant information about our industry. From time to time, we would talk about my assignments and the ways I could perform them more efficiently.
I was informed by him about all future projects and available trainings, plans of our department, plans of the whole company. He was constantly showing me all doors that were open and left me to choose where I want to knock.
Having that kind of professional so committed to your development means that you can learn how to read through expert CVs, screen hundreds of pages per day and basically „get the feeling“ of the business- in no time.
3) What matters is the result, not the hours spent in office.
Germans don’t just work hard – they work smart. During my internship I’ve never stayed in my office longer than I was supposed to do. Even now, it happens rarely. When your work is organized in a right way and you know how to set your priorities straight – it is really not that hard to do so.
At the beginning, I felt kind of lost there and needed more time to do even basic things. I would get into a document and forget about the time. Around 5:00 p.m., my mentor and colleagues would start packing and encouraged me to do the same.
Playing „busy“ and just sitting and scrolling aimlessly doesn’t mean a thing – and they are fully aware of it. If you respect the deadlines and finish your job, there is no need to pretend that you’re overwhelmed in order to emphasize your commitment. Go home.
4) Execution beats observation. They really let you do the job.
One of the things that German business culture puts on piedestal is definitely personal responsibility. They won’t leave you behind, nor push you forward – you are the one that is supposed to say how much you can take and what are you able to do.
I loved the feeling of being in control of my learning process – the moment I feel ready to do more, I simply ask – and get more tasks. Although I am certain that they were somehow measuring my progress, nobody was forcing me to get out of my pace.
What I often notice in some companies on the Balkans is the fact that you first have to watch, then to learn and when you’re finally ready – you sit and wait for the opportunity: next „big“ client, for example.
In Germany, there is no such thing! Opportunities are literary everywhere and people really ask for them (without being afraid that they will be overloaded) and get them.
One of my favourite examples for this is situation in which I said that I would like to master one specific project technique. Same morning, my mentor printed out handy manuals on that topic. Colleague made me „my coffee“ and brought it to my table. They left me alone, undisturbed, to learn – for a half of the day.
In the afternoon, I got real project that our department was engaged in. They asked me to apply what I’ve just read about. They didn’t look for expert in that, they didn’t give me some false exercise. Real thing, raw knowledge. Simple as that.
5) Personality doesn’t affect the job.
Although I consider myself very good at reading people, it took me quite some time to do that in one German office. When we talk about personal stuff or chit-chat in canteen restaurant, it gets obvious. But when we are „on a mission“, those things are left aside.
You are always allowed to express what you think. We can agree or disagree, but people keep working together in spite of tension after disagreement or tricky feedback given. I’ve never heard something like „I won’t work with him anymore“.
After three months working in this kind of environment, I went on my first business trip to Ancara, Turkey. As soon as I entered the office, I knew who is „the boss“ that you shouldn’t really disagree with. It was really funny, and reminded me of some companies in Serbia.
6) Trainings, trainings, trainigs!
Trainings were provided by internal and external coaches. They were creative and interactive, for up to fifteen persons. Topics that were covered where specific things from industry (like „Project cycle management“), but also moderation, negotiation and other soft skills.
Depending on your position, you have certain number of trainings that you have to complete each year. You can fit them in your schedule when you decide to do so. Just choose from long list of available ones, according to your preferences and recommendation of your mentor.
I was allowed and highly encouraged to attend those trainings, even though my German was not quite good at that time. I cannot put in words how much that helped me to acquire confidence, speaking skills and the feeling that I’m really part of the team. More about that experience you can read on my blog.
7) Having fun.
Despite of the fact that many people warned me about seriousness of my internship, I had so much fun working there!
Each project won was celebrated with whole department. Strategy meeting that is held by the end of the year implies an excursion. That did, indeed, include some productive workshops, but also talking about our vision throughout long walk on the beach next to Baltic sea.
I attended their phenomenal traditional Christmas party just before I went home. They took me out for my birthday, with flowers, presents, surprises and everything. My team threw me a farewell party that ended that with my Tunisian colleague singing in Serbian!
One of my favourite colleagues, that I shared an office with, used to say one thing every time we get stuck in deadlines and troublesome partners:
„Hana, it’s just a job“.
It really had an effect on me and reminded me every time to slow down, stop exaggerating and just do the best I can.
„The best I can“ expanded so much due to my experience with them. German business culture showed me that these principles that I’ve learned about so long – are truly applicable and important. They helped me develop, as a person and as a professional and I will definitely stick to them till the end of my career.
Hana, Generation 2015