Americans and project execution: Why do they act before they think?

By 21 June 2023 Non classé No Comments
Americans and project execution

Are you frustrated with your American colleague’s tendency to act first, think later?

If you said yes, this guide is for you! It gives you practical steps on how to work effectively with American colleagues who have an action-first approach. Ready. Fire. Aim!


1. A Little History Lesson
2. Is It Culture or Experience?
3. The Good and the Bad
4. How to manage and react to Americans’ action-first approach, in 4 steps
5. Conclusion

1. A Little History Lesson

So, you’ve probably heard about the “American Dream,” right?

It’s this idea that anyone can make it big in the U.S. if they just work hard enough. This concept has been around since the 1930s and it’s still a big part of the American work culture today.

It’s all about hustling, being individualistic, and chasing success. And it’s part of the reason why Americans have a tendency to act first, and then take time for reflection.

You may know the expression “Ready. Aim. Fire!” Well, in the US, it’s more like “Ready. Fire! Aim.”

In other words, take action. And then think about the best way to do something.

Think of the startup culture in Silicon Valley. It’s all about working hard, moving fast, and disrupting industries. And to do that, you can’t sit around thinking and planning and having meetings. You have to get out there, try things, fail, and then think about it.

Think too much, and you lose valuable time. That’s the way a lot of Americans reason. And it can be very frustrating for other cultures that place high value on thinking and planning, like France or Japan.

2. Is It Culture or Experience?

If you have noticed this behavior in your American coworkers or contacts, you might ask yourself why they do this.

Is it a cultural thing or does it have to do with experience and the level of seniority (how long the person has been in a company; their years of experience)?

Well, it’s a bit of both.

As I mentioned earlier, American culture values efficiency and progress. There’s this “do-it-yourself” mentality where people are encouraged to take action and get things done.

Think about the phrase “move fast and break things” that’s popular in tech companies. It’s all about taking action and making progress, even if it means making mistakes along the way.

That being said, experience and seniority also play a role.

Someone who has been in the industry for a long time might feel confident enough to get some basic instructions, or even an idea from their manager, and then start executing on it immediately. They use their past experience and knowledge to guide them, rather than spend a lot of time thinking and planning.

For example, let’s say you’re a project manager with many years of experience.

You’ve handled dozens of projects before and you know the drill. You might feel confident enough to jump directly into action. Because you know that you can handle any issues that come up along the way.

This is very different from the approach managers take in other countries that value reflection time & careful planning. In these countries, the manager may take more time to coordinate meetings, plan each step carefully, have more meetings, anticipate potential problems and how to handle them… just in case they happen.

You can see how two members of the same team, but from different cultures could have a lot of problems working together. There will be frustration on both sides!


3. The Good and the Bad

Like anything else, this action-first approach has its pros and cons.

On the positive side, taking action quickly can lead to rapid progress and innovation.

But on the negative side, it can lead to doing a lot of work that is unnecessary. It can also lead to spending money on things that aren’t the best choices.

Often, with a little extra thinking time and planning, a company could have avoided losing time, energy, and money.

Also, in American culture, a strong focus on individual achievement can sometimes mean that each individual employee wants to take initiative, find the solution first, to show that they are there to take action and do things (instead of just thinking, which looks like inaction).

In English, there’s an old expression: “There’s no ‘I’ in teamwork”?

This is to remind people that in order to function as a team, they need to focus less on themselves and their individual achievement, and more on the team effort. Because yes, we need someone to remind us of this!

But don’t get me wrong, not all American workplaces are like this.

Many companies recognize the importance of planning and encourage a balanced approach to work.

4. How to manage and react to Americans’ action-first approach, in 4 steps

Step 1: Understand the Action-First Mentality

The first step is to understand why your American colleague jumps straight into execution mode.

As we discussed earlier, this is a mix of cultural norms and experience.

Americans value efficiency and progress, and they’re used to a fast-paced work environment where decisions need to be made quickly.

For example, imagine you’re working on a project with a tight deadline. Your American colleague might start executing tasks immediately to ensure the project is completed on time.

This might seem inefficient to you because they did not plan enough. But for your American colleague, it’s a way to ensure efficiency and progress.

Neither vision is correct. But it’s important to understand their logic & reasoning.

Step 2: Communicate Openly

If you feel like your American colleague is rushing into action without enough planning, don’t hesitate to voice your concerns. American workplaces value open communication and diverse perspectives, even if you are lower in the hierarchy than your American colleague.

Let’s imagine that you’re working on a marketing campaign, and your American colleague wants to launch it immediately.

You could say something like, “I understand the need for quick action, but I believe we could benefit from a bit more planning. Can we discuss the campaign strategy in more detail before launching?”

It’s even better if you can justify your request. For example : “Can we discuss the campaign strategy in more detail before launching, because I feel that if we can take a little extra time to work out certain details first, it will save us time and money in the end.”

Step 3: Suggest a Balanced Approach

While Americans value action, they also understand the importance of planning, even if it can make them nervous if the planning phase takes too much time.

If you feel like your colleague is skipping the planning phase, suggest a more balanced approach.

For instance, if you’re working on a new product launch, you could propose a strategy meeting before jumping into execution.

You could say, “I think it would be beneficial for us to have a strategy meeting to discuss our goals, target audience, and marketing tactics before we start executing the plan.”

Step 4: Show Appreciation for Their Action-First Approach

While the action-first approach might seem overwhelming at times, it also has its advantages.

It can lead to rapid progress and innovation. Show appreciation for your colleague’s action-first approach and try to learn from it.

For example, you could say, “I really admire your ability to take quick action. It’s inspiring to see how much progress we can make when we jump right into execution. I’m learning a lot from your approach, because it’s very different from the way we approach things in my country.”

Step 5: Encourage Intercultural Understanding

Finally, encourage intercultural understanding within your team.

Encourage your colleagues to learn about each other’s cultures and work styles. This can lead to more effective collaboration and mutual respect.

For instance, you could organize a team-building activity where each member shares something about their culture and work style.

The goal is not to find the “best” way (because there is no “best” way), or to decide which country has a superior approach.

The goal is simply to build awareness of the differences that exist, so that each team member can recognize them.

This can help your American colleague understand your need for more planning, and it can help you understand their need for quick action.

5. Conclusion

To sum up the situation, the American tendency to jump straight into execution mode is influenced by both cultural norms and experience level.

While this approach can lead to rapid progress, it’s important to balance action with thoughtful planning to ensure sustainable success.

If you’re working with Americans, it can be very helpful to understand this action-first approach, and to be able to recognize it.

Communication is key here. If you feel like decisions are being rushed, don’t hesitate to speak up. American workplaces value diverse perspectives and encourage open dialogue.

And if you need help on how to do this, I and my team are happy to work with you. 

What’s your story of working with Americans?

The best way to become better is to ask questions and learn from your experience. And you can also practice your English here too!

Here’s your Confidence Challenge for this week:

  1. In the comments, tell me about your experience working with Americans. Have you seen this “action-first” approach in your American coworkers? How did you manage it? Or do you still have questions about how to react?

Share your story and your experience in the comments!

Further reading for professionals in English

Curious to learn more about the action-first approach to work in the American workplace?

I’ve selected this excellent resource for you. It was written by an American journalist, for American (or other native speaker) readers.

And it gives you some insights into Americans’ “Ready. Fire! Aim.” mentality.

Don’t miss my next free, interactive workshop!

You’re serious about improving your English and your business skills for working with Americans. And I’m serious about helping you do that.

That’s why I hold workshops every month on business communication skills, intercultural knowledge and English skills you need now.

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