Poland is a polychronic culture. This means that Poles enjoy doing several things at once, leaving plenty of flexibility for the unexpected and for improvisation. By contrast, working systematically through one scheduled project after another in a methodical way is not their strong point.
Accordingly, you are unlikely to meet with much enthusiasm if you produce a well-structured agenda for a meeting in Poland. Although Poles do work with agenda items, they view them merely as a rough guide. They prefer to jump from one topic to the next, providing their input on the spur of the moment.
Even in the absence of a precise agenda, participants are expected to arrive punctually for a meeting. Whilst Poles will tolerate a certain lateness, you should have a watertight excuse to hand for delays of more than 15 minutes.
Who is present?
The Polish working environment is strongly hierarchical. In some companies, the boss plays an almost patriarchal role. One might quip that there are only two rules in Polish business: firstly, the boss is always right and, secondly, should he ever not be right, rule no. 1 applies.
Therefore, you can assume that, if the company boss is due to attend a meeting, he is sure to be your main business partner and will also chair the meeting. Do not be surprised if he also adopts an authoritarian manner with you. Poles regard a manager who shows restraint as weak and incompetent.
Consequently, the discussion culture is not very pronounced in meetings in Poland. While participants in other countries perhaps tend to discuss a point ad infinitum, to be sure to cover different aspects or potential problems, Poles are one thing above all: willing to take risks. They do not engage in lengthy debates but prefer to move straight on to the next task.
Keep in mind, too, that the bulk of the information is not exchanged at the official meeting, but in informal talks before or afterwards. Often only brief references are made at a meeting because it is assumed that all those present are aware of the contextual factors and include them automatically. Therefore, when doing business in Poland, you should always set your antennae to listening mode.
Although discussions tend to be briefer here than elsewhere, meetings in Poland are not necessarily short. Despite the fact that they spend less time on individual points, devoting plenty of time to their interlocutors is a token of high esteem for Poles. Respect and mutual appreciation are cardinal virtues in Polish culture. You should remain courteous and deferential at all times in meetings. Endeavour to maintain a constructive atmosphere for discussion. The personal relations that you are establishing are more crucial to the success of your project than deliberating on content issues.
Beware when finding fault
Be very careful with criticism at meetings. Poles do not differentiate between the objective level and the personal level. They communicate in a more indirect way and constructive criticism is unheard of. Censure is invariably taken personally and has no positive connotations whatsoever. If you must find fault with something, under no circumstances should you do so in front of the whole group. Always request a one-to-one meeting.
PowerPoint or flip chart presentations are standard in Poland. However, they are restricted to important discussions and hardly ever used at regular meetings.
Keep your PowerPoint presentation simple and be guided by the American style. In other words, avoid overloading individual slides and list a maximum of five points.
On the whole, the presentation technique of many Poles may be less professional than you are perhaps accustomed to. Do not expect too much. But do not make the mistake of assuming that the quality of the presentation reflects the quality of the propositions or the business project as a whole.
As a polychronic culture, Poles are experts at multitasking. Therefore, do not be put off if individual participants take telephone calls or leave the room during a presentation or a meeting. Poles consider it normal to occasionally concentrate on another task; this should not be interpreted as a lack of respect.