Insist on Meeting Agendas
Insist offshore Indian software teams to have meeting agendas that incorporate key players into the agenda. While an agenda can help keep things from going overtime, in some teams when agendas are first established, the head honcho is the only one talking, while the developers stay mum. While some of this can be attributed to the differences in management hierarchy in India, some can be resolved by insisting on an agenda that calls out specific topics, and against each topic the person who is actually doing that task has to talk (not their manager).
See our workshop on Effective Meeting Management
Move to One-on-Ones
If group meetings do not work, try one-on-one meetings. While I know you have only so many hours in a day, and adding one-on-ones can sound tedious, the good news about one-on-ones is that they can be in shorter duration than full-length meetings. The one-on-one could be scheduled with only the person doing the task, not the entire team or the management. In some cases, I have seen with those weaker in English conversation start out with IM or chat meetings then work up to phone calls.
Use IM or Chat
Do you have only one question or a short message to deliver? Try IMing the person in question. Sometimes these short interactions could build rapport and build confidence to phone conversations. While sticking to work related questions may come by default, maybe having a short small talk conversation about the team member's weekend or a recent holiday that passed can help to break the ice. Or, just IM to say "Hi" or "Good day."
Talk in Plain English
This maybe the most tricky of all, because for this to happen the awareness and onus has to fall on onshore native speakers of English. Remember that while offshore team members have a wide range of fluency, it is still a good bet that even the most fluent may not always understand American idioms in conversation, and how to respond. In some cases, the idiomatic responses get lost in translation and can cost time or money in project work. In other cases, it just so happens that your offshore team are too busy trying to translate idioms in their head to their local language and back to English again to try to get the meaning, and are just at a loss for words. It's important for onsite native English speakers to be aware of their word use and if normally talkative offshore team members are suddenly mum, take inventory of what was just said. Was an idiom or phrasal verb used? Something as ordinary as saying, "Looks like Ram is MIA." could be answered with silence while the team tries to figure out what MIA means! As native speakers, it's often challenging to identify when an idiom or phrasal verb is said, but after the first two or three times the silence is noticed, try again to repeat what was just said in different words (plain English). As idioms are quite poetic, it can be challenging, but this will help offshore understand easier.
Are you an American working with Canadians, Australians or British nationals? Don't assume that they know American idioms or phrases! While some of the same phrases may cross borders, they may or may not have the same meaning. For example, I (an American) was once talking to my British counterpart who said, "That's going straight to the skip." I had no idea what skip meant as skip means a kind of hop in America which suddenly made no sense to me. I did speak up and ask what skip meant, and found out it meant 'dump.' But, as my British counterpart did not use the word 'dump,' we both had to use plain English to say, "the public place where garbage is thrown."
Indian offshore teams may not always be so bold to ask about a particular word or phrase, so it may be up to you to be aware of phrases and idioms to rephrase for clearer communication.
Jennifer Kumar, author of this post works with offshore and onsite teams to build better, more productive global teams. Contact us for more information today.