‘You are one minute late’, said the German Vice President to the Dutch Director in his team. He took the hourglass from his desk, turned it over and said: ‘We have to go over the five items on the agenda. You have 30 minutes.’
Efficiency Eclipses Effectiveness
The Dutch Director is my brother. He knows that the Germans take their concept of time very seriously. With an appreciation of a no-nonsense style, he considered the hourglass an interesting challenge and peculiar German twist. Most importantly however, he believed that a focus on the format should not overshadow the content. In other words, any meeting should strike a balance between efficiency and effectiveness.
30 Minutes of Stress
Years ago, I organized a seminar for a Latin American team in Argentina. Our agenda stated that the meeting was going to start at 9am, which was exactly the moment that Thomas, my German co-presenter, was starting to be visibly uneasy. Our Latin American colleagues used the first 15 minutes to catch up over a coffee. Another 15 minutes later, Thomas was openly upset and told me that the program was already a disaster.
First Things First
Not too long ago, I flew overnight from Atlanta to Rome and went straight from the airport to a meeting. No time to lose. At the office and around the time the meeting was supposed to start, the sharp dressed Italian host walked us over to another building, two blocks down the street. On our way there, he enthusiastically pointed at a coffee bar that he considered the best in the neighborhood. Coffee first. The meeting started an hour late and went very well.
The Concept of Time
After 20 years of working internationally, I found that time is important in every culture. However, it is important to keep in mind that everybody does the same thing differently. The hourglass measured 30 minutes of German efficiency. But not Dutch perplexity, not Latin American joy and not German stress. It didn’t measure what Romans in Rome do. To be successful in international business, it is crucial to understand that time is really of non-measurable essence.