Western companies can be organized in a very hierarchic manner, but in fact many decisions rely on a majority stance, hence a specific way for meetings to be run. In France, for example, during a group discussion, even if a number of the employees present tend to expect the boss to make the final decision, the discussions leading up to this are often interactive and even boisterous, with differing, often antagonistic, points of view. From country to country, of course, various approaches can be observed when it comes to seek a compromise. But from a Chinese point of view these differences are minor questions.
For decision-making in a Chinese team is quite different. In most instances, there will be no search for a majority decision, but more for a consensus. The difference is important. A Chinese boss will never decide against the opinion of the other parties involved, no matter what his role or hierarchic position are: everyone must agree, especially in government agencies and public enterprises, even if the approach is often top-down, the discussions less dynamic and in reality, the subordinates will always try to follow the line set by their bosses. Many Chinese leaders have been influenced by the ‘Wu Wei’ (“Do nothing”) philosophy, inspired by Lao Tseu and Zhuangzi: they do not make decisions immediately but rather wait till their subordinates have arranged every detail, before signing or not.
Thus, when we address the Chinese Government to obtain approval for an investment project, we must first of all gain their confidence and also favorably impress all the members of the local team. This is what the director of a major international investment bank explains, as follows: it does not matter what hierarchic rank the vis-à-vis has, but it is important to give them sufficient time, bolster their self-esteem and assist them in their work; it is even recommended to be kind and courteous with the person who serves the tea.