Cultural Differences – Switzerland (German speaking part)

In terms of competitiveness, Switzerland is number one, according to the latest global Competitiveness report from the World Economic Forum. Innovation, efficiency and a strong work ethic are strong pillars of the economy. Certain characteristics of German-speaking Swiss in particular, such as tidiness, precision and a high level of risk-aversion shape a business culture which above all values pragmatics and planning.

Information trumps all

During the first business meeting, Swiss expect a well-prepared, detailed presentation. In depth (questions and) topics are frequently discussed and evaluated at a very early stage. It is therefore important to bring in representatives who have a high technical competence and can explain facts about products or projects to everyone’s satisfaction. Swiss are reluctant to take risks, which is why they arm themselves with thoroughly comprehensive information before they even consider a joint business venture.

Courteous meetings and negotiations

In subsequent meetings and negotiations, Swiss mainly strive for courtesy and consensus. Their negotiating style is methodical and analytical, so factual and confrontation-free discussions are necessary. Consequently, Swiss are more inclined to seek a compromise on different views than to take a hard position until discussions have been completed. Those participating in a meeting or a negotiation are usually highly expert. Therefore, a number of experts may be invited to the meeting solely to provide input on their particular specialty. It is rare that a general representative takes the lead in all negotiations.

Despite a generally high level of competence, Swiss are extremely modest in meetings and negotiations, and do not take themselves too seriously. Thinking in terms of status/demonstrating one’s status is almost unknown here. They expect understatement and restraint from their business partners as well.

Decision-making within the company

Similar to the Swiss state system with its comparatively independent cantons and various referendums, strong decentralisation is also practised in companies. The hierarchies are flat and the grassroot levels (??) have relatively high decision-making powers. As a rule, there are many operational units. Each carries responsibility for certain tasks. There is a tendency toward egalitarian principles and consensus such that top-level management finalizes all decisions, but only after they are jointly agreed on by several representatives of different departments. This process may take some time. However, once decisions have been adopted, there is total commitment to them which in the end can speed up the overall project because there will be no renegotiations or second-guessing.

Project cooperation

Time moves more slowly in Switzerland than in many other countries. Still, you should strive to be as timely and precise as a Swiss clock for meetings and meet deadlines. Appointments are generally scheduled long in advance and postponed reluctantly. Once project plans have been drawn up, Swiss only deviate involuntarily. One must therefore have solid justification for any desired changes, and give enough notice to ensure that all the operative units involved are fully informed and able to react appropriately.

Teamwork is the preferred mode of work in Swiss companies. However, team members usually operate relatively independently of the team within their respective fields of expertise. This is another example of Swiss decentralism. For project partners from another country, this means that they should always contact the responsible specialist directly for questions.

Bi-national corperations are particularly successful when both sides are aware of existing intercultural differences. Embracing the same high level of respect and tolerance for each others style of working is the best way to achieve concrete goals amicably.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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