In general, Dutch society is very orderly and organized. Many rules and regulations, time tables, permissions, and prohibitions ensure that everything runs smoothly. In business life, the Dutch like to be precise, too. Planning and time management are essential, as are verbal or written agreements. When it comes to business meetings in the Netherlands, people like to be well prepared. They focus on details and are very fond of agendas. Meetings in the Netherlands are highly structured, and there will be a fixed schedule. Somebody will almost always be given the role of a chairperson to keep the agenda moving along.
Timeframe Of A Meeting
It is vital to the Dutch to regard all the details and talk every possibility through before they start to work. The fixed procedures of a Dutch meeting, the need to talk about everything in detail and the feeling that everybody should have their say in a meeting mean that these get-togethers can be quite lengthy. It can take even longer before a final decision is reached. Some foreigners used to a more “action”-oriented approach, like US-Americans, for example, might find that meetings in the Netherlands drag on and on without any real work getting done. However, for Dutch business people, meetings are a significant part of tackling a project. Before they start, they want to go very much into details.
The Netherlands are a monochronic culture, which means that the Dutch like to do one thing at a time. There is a time for everything, and everything should be done in time. While other cultures don’t have a problem doing several things at once or switching back and forth between tasks, the Dutch like to structure their time in sequences. Clocks, timers, timetables and daily agendas are fundamental in the Dutch culture. Sometimes there will be an extra “time-watcher” in a meeting.
Punctuality is a Calvinistic virtue. It is seen as impolite to be late for meetings or other business affairs. If you will probably not be able to make it in time, call ahead and inform your Dutch business partner about your delay, give a good reason and arrange a new date, if necessary. If you are late for more than one or two occasions, this will probably irritate your counterparts very much. Time is a precious commodity in the Netherlands, and delay is associated with bad time management and not being trustworthy.
Structure Of A Meeting
Meetings in the Netherlands are team-oriented. The senior management does not necessarily have to be present. Project team meetings may be planned on short notice; however, they won’t be held spontaneously.
Dutch meetings are highly structured and take place in a meeting room. It is not common to reach agreements over a friendly chat during lunch break or at the coffee machine in the corridor. Meetings are held in a meeting room over coffee, cookies and water.
Before the meeting starts, the minutes of the last meeting will briefly be discussed, and somebody will be assigned to take the minutes of this meeting.
The Polder Model
Dutch business meetings are democratic to the core. The Dutch feel that in a meeting, everybody should have their say. A decision is only final if all parties agree. As long as there are open questions or doubts from anybody, a decision is postponed. A final decision will only be made if everybody agrees or a satisfying compromise is found. The goal is to reach a consensus.
If you are not used to this time-consuming decision-making process, you might draw the wrong conclusions and feel your Dutch business partners are not really interested in doing business with you. They are. They just have to make sure that everybody agrees.
This “slow” decision-making process is also known in Dutch politics. It is called the “Polder model”, meaning everybody is entitled to their say. Historically, this term points to the fact that the Netherland consists of many polders. Polder means land reclaimed from the sea, which requires constant pumping and maintenance of the dykes. The process of land reclamation began in the Middle Ages, and ever since then, all the people living in the same polder have been forced to work together to keep the waters at bay. This is thought to have taught the Dutch to compromise in all matters that count.
Setting Up A Meeting
If you want to set up a meeting with Dutch business partners or coworkers, it is a good idea to make the appointment one or two weeks in advance so that everybody has the chance to prepare and plan their time accordingly.
Dutch managers can be approached directly for an appointment. They are generally pragmatic and non-hierarchical. The best time for a meeting is around 10 a.m. or in the early afternoon. Don’t schedule a meeting on a Friday afternoon or late in the day.
The Dutch like to stick to their regular working hours. Ensure that you arrange all the equipment for the meeting in advance and have an agenda and start on time.
Always start your meeting on time and with not too much small talk. Everybody is here for business and not to talk about the weather or personal matters. Remember: For a successful business meeting in the Netherlands, it is unnecessary to create a harmonious atmosphere. Just be well prepared and in time, and everybody will feel just fine.
Have all your info material at hand and know your facts and figures. And don’t forget to bring enough business cards!
In a meeting with many attendees where not everyone knows each other, the chairperson will go around the room to allow each person to introduce themselves, with their name.
As mentioned before, in a Dutch business meeting, it is the custom to allow everybody to speak if they wish. It is polite not to interrupt while others are speaking.
The Dutch have a sizeable personal zone. So, try to sit not too close to your neighbour during the meeting!
There will most likely not be any interruptions during meetings in the Netherlands. Nobody will enter the room unannounced, and nobody will leave to make a phone call or do something else. Everybody gives the task at hand their full attention.
After the meeting, try to obtain feedback from the participants. You should also make sure that everybody receives the meeting minutes.
Deadlines should be stated clearly in the meeting and the minutes. It is also customary to shake hands with everybody on leaving a meeting.
Presenting In A Meeting
The Dutch have a straightforward style of talking. They communicate fast and efficient, without useless verbiage. And that is precisely how they like their business presentations, too. So, if you prepare a presentation for your Dutch business partners, try to keep it very matter of fact. You want to get to the point quickly and without hesitation. Avoid exaggerations or elaborate presentations with animations or similar frills. It is better to base your arguments on sufficient facts and to be as precise as possible. A reference list can be helpful. The golden rule is to keep it professional without unnecessary “poespas” which means “fuss”.
Remember: You don’t have to create a relaxed atmosphere first before you start presenting. Your Dutch business partners don’t have to feel good to follow your lines of thought. You can use humour, of course. However, you should keep in mind that what is considered humorous or funny differs depending on your cultural background. So, you want to tread lightly when using witty remarks in your presentation. The same is true for sweeping gestures and exaggerated expressions. Try to avoid them altogether. Although they are common in Southern Europe or South America, they will probably send shivers down the spines of
your Dutch business partners. It is best to present in a formal and rational manner.
Structure Of A Presentation
So, how should you structure your presentation for a Dutch audience? Follow a logical structure that invites people to follow the line of your thought. Make sure that you are well prepared and that you speak comprehensively and clear. The Dutch like facts and figures in presentations, so use them to underline your arguments. This is a good way to show that they are valid.
The same holds for your handouts. The material should be well structured and proofread. A handout is an excellent opportunity to summarise the data, numbers and facts you discuss in your presentation.