October 12, 2018

Managing Teams in More than One City in India

Are you remotely managing co-located, virtual offshore teams in different parts of India? Understanding Indian cultural diversity and work culture will help you to manage your teams more effectively.  

Different Languages 

business and education is generally conducted in English, each state in India has its own language. Different languages have different scripts. Managers will quickly understand there is no language called “Indian” when they encounter a bouquet of languages – Tamil. Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi and countless others. Managers who manage diverse teams in different metros will notice social groups and cliques form for lunch and after work. If one studies these groups closely at times it becomes obvious people break into groups based on their language background; and will be talking in their local language on their down time and not English. This is one reason many onboarding programs have a soft-skills module on speaking English in the office. The module's main goal is not to necessarily improve English skills but to highlight to the team that speaking English in common areas helps everyone feel more comfortable to mingle and break into group discussions in pantries, break rooms and during lunch. Such onboarding training modules appear to have more long term success in corporations in larger metros with a more diverse employee base like Bangalore and Mumbai. Similar modules have also be tailored for the virtual teams preparing for their expat assignments to the U.S.

Different Holidays 

India is truly diverse and inclusive in its observance of holidays. There are government holidays, national holidays, regional holidays and holidays for various religions (Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhist, Jain, etc.). Depending on the area, the holiday schedule may vary slightly. If you manage teams in different states, keep a holiday calendar for the two areas. Even the same companies will observe different holidays based on the various regions they are located in. 

Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic
Journeys, celebrating Onam in Infopark, Kerala.

A few examples of this would be:
  • Kerala celebrates Onam in late August / early September. This is not celebrated in other parts of India. 
  • Birthday of Lord Krishna is celebrated for two days in some parts of North India, and for only one day in some areas of South India. Some in South India may celebrate Krishna's birthday on a totally different day than the rest of India, as well. 
  • Diwali the major holiday of a majority of India may not be observed in Kerala.
  • Sometimes holidays are scheduled, but changed the day before due to wrong sun or moon calendar calculations (case in point with Eid this year, which had it’s actual celebration the day after the officially stated day). 
Unlike in the U.S. where holiday events at work are typically subdued or small in scale and scope, in the parts of India I worked in holiday celebrations at work were taken seriously with a wide variety of holiday themed cultural events, competitions, games, and more. A serious mistake an American starting an offshore team in India could make is to limit holiday celebrations in the office. 

To get an example of some of these celebrations, see the following posts of holiday events I have attended at some of my client sites: 
Onam Celebrations at Litmus7 
Pookkalam (flower carpet) competition amongst companies in GeoInfopark, Kerala 
Christmas Competitions at UST Global 
Onam Activities in Infopark, Kakkanad
Celebrating Onam in NRITBI (where Authentic Journeys office is in India) 
Watching Thiruvathira Dance for Onam, Arbitron, 2012

Different Cultures
India's multi-cultural diversity of India is not limited to languages, holidays, and religions. From area to area, you will encounter very different tastes of food, different styles of dress, different dialects (accents and slangs), different attitudes, different family observances and traditions. Family is a major part of life in India and work life and family life balance take on a different aspect in India than in the West. Managers are known to help employees with transportation and even work around challenging family issues that prevent people from working to keep employees on the team. Managers are particularly sensitive to the safety and transportation issues of females, even in big, cosmopolitan cities like Bangalore. Be aware as a Western manager or employee if you are a female, take precautions for your safety. Ask locals for tips to stay safe.

Strikes and Bandhs 

Bandh means ‘closed’ in Hindi and is used all over India to indicate a ‘strike.' (Hartal is the word more commonly used in Kerala, where the language is Malayalam, pictured above.)  Strikes are very common in some areas of India for social and political issues. If a strike is called in one area of India, it may not be called in another part of India. Teams may work in one part of India and not in another. Generally, when a strike happens; people do not go out. They may work from home, if that is allowed by the company. However, generally people do not do work or go to school or college on strike days and people stay home. Roads become deserted and people only go out in extreme emergency because there is a chance that fights erupt or people’s cars can get stoned. Depending on the nature and length of the strike, electricity and other utilities can be affected. People generally go out the day before the strike to buy their groceries to avoid going out on the day of the strike. I have shared some of my thoughts on going to work in Bangalore and Kochi during strike days, and my general observations in regards to strikes, here.

Investing time in educating yourself and the US team members on the diverse cultural and safety implications in the various parts of India before sending your managers or employees to set up an office in India is critical. Be especially sensitive to the needs of female employees; helping them realize that based on the area of India, it’s best to be reminded they are not in their native country, but in India where rules are different and attitudes toward women’s safety are different. Maintain a safety plan for your employees in case of any eventuality. Stay safe and all the best with your business ventures in India.

Jennifer Kumar helps your co-located, global teams to bridge the cultural gap to improve communication and productivity. We can work with you to bridge and build your cultural awareness about India to work more effectively with Indians and south Asians.

Related Posts: 

Why Some Indian Holidays Change at the Last Minute
Outsourced to India - Cultural tips and Considerations on Accommodations.
Tips for adjusting to life in India as a foreigner

Originally posted Oct. 4, 2018, Updated Oct. 2018
Picture credits: India map: from India Languages page on Wikipedia, Indian language scripts: http://50thingstodobeforewedie.blogspot.com. 

October 6, 2018

A Dozen Conversation Connectors in English

Do you ever feel your English is dry? The sentences you say seem disconnected or disjointed? Unable to connect your thoughts with phrases that continue the the conversation in a fluid way? 

Let's take a look at some common conversation connectors in English. These are common in American English, but most may be universal if not idiomatic.
    12 Conversation Connectors in English
  1. I'm not joking when I say 
  2. ...and that goes for (......) as well 
  3. like i said.... 
  4. and to make matters worse.... 
  5. That's a great question 
  6. That's a great point 
  7. having said that.... 
  8. I think you'd agree with me when I say... 
  9. I hate to say it but... 
  10. it goes without saying... 
  11. getting back to the topic at hand 
  12. as a disclaimer  
In future posts, I'll share examples of how to use each phrase. As the list builds, I'll link examples from this post. 

Feel free to share examples of other conversational connectors you use, or examples of how you have used these in the context of some other conversation. 

As a fun fact, the image in this post is a road sign for route 12 in Utah, one of the most scenic routes in the US. If you have ever heard of Bryce Canyon National Park or Kodachrome Basin State Park, these are at the southern end of the route, while Capitol Reef National Park is at the northern end. The photos below are from the author's travels on byway 12, one of the most inspirational landscapes! 

Driving through Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Driving through Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Scenes of Scenic Byway 12, Utah
Scenes of Scenic Byway 12, Utah
Camping in Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah
Camping in Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah

Jennifer Kumar, Author, cycling on byway 12 near Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Jennifer Kumar, Author, cycling on byway 12
near Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Having said that, let's wrap up this post! Until next time, connect, connect, connect!

Jennifer Kumar, author builds cultural context on virtual teams. Jennifer is in Utah. If your team is working with Utahns or Utah based companies, let us be your bridge. Or, if you are visiting Utah and want help with fun, off the beaten path kind of things to do, we can help with that, too! Contact us for to see how we can work together. 

Related Posts: 
More idioms and phrases said by Americans 
Making Small Talk with Americans  
Sound Confident in English 

October 5, 2018

Speak Expressive English That Keeps Everyone Interested

Speak English fluently and naturally
Understand and create memorable
dialogue when speaking with Americans.
"When I can't see their expressions, I do not know how to respond."  

This is typically said to me when I ask my clients who work on virtual teams, "What is the most difficult thing you face when speaking with your American colleagues over the phone?"  

Many of my India -based clients speak English as a second language. For many, English has been segregated to academic and professional discourse. Many (or some) may not have much experience using English in daily conversation, for casual conversation or for brainstorming ideas. This mixed with a lack of interaction and understanding of American mannerisms and speech patterns, causes a lack of confidence while interacting with Americans.

So, how can you better understand what Americans are really saying behind their words, even if you can't see them? 

Well, if we understand how Americans use their voice, stress words, vowels or use silence; we learn a lot more about the message. Cross-cultural experts may say that a majority of American's communication is based on the words alone, being more of a direct culture. While there is no doubt that Americans do focus on words while conveying their message, the non-verbal aspect (or tone) of communication is equally or significantly more important. Since we do not have non-verbal cues to read while on a phone call, the non-verbal aspects become critical in understanding the entire message. Additionally, being able to add feeling into your message, will keep Americans more engaged in your message, interested to have a conversation with you, and help to create a pleasant working environment. Here, we look at the musical quality of English

In this below podcast, I share with you how to reproduce a small paragraph on a travel experience. This kind of conversation could happen any day when asking someone about their vacation or their weekend; which is typical small talk among a majority of Americans. By studying this, you will not only tune your ear to these aspects of communicative English, but also have a chance to try to reproduce this yourself. Practice over and over. I challenge you to practice this, make a recording of the paragraph in the recording and send it to me to see how you've progressed in your accent and communication skills.

October 4, 2018

US Coins: Penny, Nickel, Dime, Quarter

A dime, which is ten cents is a smaller coin than a nickel (5 cents) and a penny (1 cent). A quarter is 25 cents when we talk about money, but 15 minutes when we use the term 'quarter' as an idiom to tell time ("It's a quarter past three." - 3:15). In addition to these coins, there are also 50 cent coins (known as half-dollars or fifty cent pieces) and dollar coins. Both of these coins are not as common as the penny, nickel, dime and quarter. On a recent trip to the US (April 2015), I noticed that some vending machines that accepted five or ten dollar bills returned dollar coins as change. These dollar coins can be used anywhere to buy stuff, but most stores won't give them as change.

Many people know that many Americans rely on credit cards. Carrying cash and change is not as common as it used to be. Though this is true, having coins handy for various daily tasks is helpful. Depending on the city you live in in the US, you may need coins - nickels, dimes and quarters - for any of the following tasks. 

Click on the photos to see bigger sizes.  

Laundry Machines (Quarters)
 Quarters are need to use most laundry machines
courtesy: Isaac Bowen, flickr

Parking Meters
Use coins or cards
Parking meter
 courtesy: Sarah,flickr

Newspaper Vending
Newspaper vending machine 

    Food Vending
Food vending
courtesy: Sarah MacDonald ,flickr

Gumball MachinesGumball and candy machines
courtesy: Dennis Dixon, Flickr

Toll Booth: While some still accept actual
money, some read license plates
Toll booths on highways
Courtesy: Rachel Haller, Flickr

In addition to the above images, coins are also used for public transport, video games, and pay phones. What other places are coins needed in the US? Share in the comments below. 

Identify Coins Only By Feeling Them! 
US Coins: Names and Amounts
While at times, you will have time to sift through the coins, look at them to identify them, there will be other times, you will have to be quick to identify the coin only by feeling it. For instance, when you are approaching a toll booth, you should have the coins ready in advance of pulling up to the window. Or, when getting on most buses, you exact coins. What I suggest is put the coins on the table, just feel them one by one. Now, close your eyes. Feel the coins again. Can you identify them by just feeling them one by one? If yes, then put about twenty or thirty random coins into a small bag or in the coin container of your car, reach in and see if you can identify the coin only by feeling it. 

The good thing is that American coins are standard sizes and weights. Once your hand learns the feel of a penny- the penny will always feel the same. Likewise, with the nickel, dime and quarter. 

Counting Coins 
How many dimes make 40 cents? What three coins can replace a quarter? How many pennies make a nickel? Watch the video below to learn about counting coins. 

Learning about money and finances in the US if you did not grow up there will take time. The games on this page are simple ways to quickly improve your financial literacy in the US. 

Jennifer Kumar is the creator of The US Culture-Culture Training Finishing School, a training that can be customized for your international assignees to accustom themselves to some simple, everyday aspects of US social and business culture before or after going onsite in the US.  

Related Posts: 
Phrases and Idioms about Money in the US  
Paycheck Deductions in the USA  
8 Tips For Everyday Life in the USA 

October 3, 2018

Lean on Popular Culture Insight - Tips on Broaching Delicate Topics

The sixth tip in a series of tips on How to Broach Delicate Topics is to:  
Lean on Popular Culture for Guidance and Insight 

Through the use of multimedia like television news, advertisements, sitcoms, movies, music, and radio shows, facilitators of cross-cultural training programs can highlight various elements of cultural understanding without the use of lectures. Three different types of activities I have planned using popular media include: 

Guided Discussion and Reflection
This approach requires reading and/or watching a related piece of media, breaking into groups, discussing and reflecting. To use this approach, the facilitator would:
Using popular media to teach culture differences
Understanding American
Accent - See More

  • Choose the theme of discussion.
  • Find the theme in current magazines, newspapers, television ads and shows, movies, popular music and other media. The material should accurately portray the cultural behavior or mannerism.
  • Request the groups to read/watch the material and discuss the topic based on two or three guided questions.
  • The groups can present their findings to the larger group in the debrief.
  • Theme ideas - the confusing, not-so-relaxing American vacation or who pays when going out to eat (Friends TV show clip, middle of post).
Challenging Media Stereotypes
This activity helps participants to understand how stereotypes in media can give us the wrong impression of reality. This activity can be handled in one of two ways:
  • American media misconceptions. Have participants identify stereotypes of Americans in the US and their native country's media. Ask them to challenge those stereotypes. How do those stereotypes impact their approach to Americans? (This discussion is best facilitated by a person who has lived in the US for many years.)
  • Native country media study. Similar to the previous example, have participants discuss stereotypes of their own country natives in either their own country's media and/or American media. How do those stereotypes impact their fellow citizens interact with each other? How do those stereotypes influence foreigners thoughts about their country and people? (For instance, do all Indians dance at work or wear fancy saris while doing chores?)
  • The lure of coming to the US has been with Keralites for decades. This song sequence from the 80s gave that generation this impression of the US.
Learn New Things:
For those unfamiliar with US culture, using videos and magazine articles related to the topic of the activity is an effective way of teaching the new concepts. I have used two approaches to applying this method:
  • American Sports: Groups of four or five are assigned a sport, ideally a sport that is not so popular in their native culture (like American football or baseball) and is given time to research it. They are to present a small demo on the sport, discussing a little about it's importance in current American culture and a role play on how to play the game.
  • Introduction to American Holidays and Small Talk: The class is divided into smaller groups and given materials on particular holidays including written material and videos to watch. Groups pair the lesson on small talk topics along with the holidays lesson and create role plays on conversations they could have with American clients about particular holidays like Fourth of July (Independence Day) or Memorial Day. (In addition to small talk lessons, participants also may learn new idioms, phrases, slang or vocabulary peculiar to American English.

    A few examples of videos used to stimulate discussions include:

These are just a few examples of how media can be used in cross-cultural training. Feel free to share more of your examples below!

End of Tip 6
<--Read Tip 5 - Blame it on the Culture

Jennifer Kumar can prepare you to train in India. Consulting, private coaching and train the trainer programs available by contacting Jennifer Kumar today to discuss more. 

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.