October 4, 2011

Managing Teams in Bangalore, Chennai, Kochi, Mumbai and other Indian Cities Simultaneously

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 like Bangalore and Mumbai.

Different Holidays 

India is truly diverse and inclusive in its observance of holidays. There are government holidays, national holidays and holidays for various religions (Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhist, Jain, etc.). Depending on the area you live in, 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. 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). 
Different Cultures
India is a multi-cultural diversity of India is not limited languages,, holidays, and religions. From area to area, you will encounter very different tastes of food, different styles of dress, 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’. 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.

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. Programs for offshore teams, onsite teams and mediation are available. Contact us today.

Related Posts:
Outsourced to India - Cultural tips and Considerations on Accommodations.
Tips for adjusting to life in India as a foreigner 

Diwali and Onam - A Mysterious Connection

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