Managing Time in Indian Meetings

Posted On: October 31, 2014

I’m always intrigued when I see the watch commercial linked in this post. It’s not only because I like Hrithik Roshan in this ad, but I often wonder how many Indians chase time like he does in this ad. As an expat who lived in India, I was always intrigued about managing time in Indian meetings as it seemed to differ to what I was used to in the USA.

Letting time dictate one’s actions seems to be to be more of an American approach than Indian approach. 

Pointing out someone is late so directly also seems to be more of an American than Indian approach. Based on my vastly different experiences managing time in the US and in India, this commercial intrigues, fascinates and mystifies me. I always wonder how many Indians relate to the rushed feeling in this ad triggered by being a slave to the clock. 

See the video ad on YouTube.

Though I must say, after my experiences in various parts of India, especially Mumbai, yes, life can work on a different rhythm depending on the region or area. In this post, I hope to share some of my person reflections on time management as I see them through US lens. This is by no means meant to offend anyone, they are just observations based on my experience working, living and studying in India for 10 plus years. 

What is IST? 

Unlike in the US where people carefully measure their time, treat the clock as God, and most schedules run like clockwork, India is a bit different. We can affectionately refer to this as IST. While IST is the abbreviation for the Indian time zone (Indian Standard Time), it also doubles affectionally as Indian Stretchable Time. 

As a foreigner in India, be prepared for so many things to change your schedule. If things run exactly on your watch, you should question if you are really in India! While there is an element of truth to that, of course there are places in India things do run on time. The lesson here is to prepare yourself to be flexible with the time frames and schedules.

(Note: This information is provided based on my experience working with over 30 countries in more than 7 cities in India and over 30 companies. It can vary from area to area and company to company.)

How Does this Impact Setting Agendas?
When setting your agenda for a training, seminar, workshop, or meeting, include time for buffer. In the US, we tend to be in the room ten minutes ahead of the hour for any meeting, ending it ten minutes before the next hour.

USA: Meeting Invite says 9am-10am

You are in the room by 8:50, meeting starts exactly at 9, ends at 9:50 so you have time to get to your 10am meeting.

India: Meeting Invite says 9am-10am

You are in the room at 9, start the meeting by 9:10 – 9:15, end it by 10:15 or later. All following meetings will either start late or you will enter late. The only meeting that will happen on time in most cases after this in any given day is lunch.

Because of this view of time, and use of time, be ready to be very flexible. This flexibility is different than the flexibility that would be touted in the US. Be ready to change your activities at a glance, or abbreviate your presentation without leaving out points. Additionally, be ready for any of the other following “events” to evade your training programs:

  • Power outages (but, in many cases you can keep presenting…)
  • Company activities that were planned between the time your training was set and it occurring
  • A big manager or client visiting onsite the same day as your training
  • Last minute client calls or work commitments that prevent people from attending part or all of the session
  • Cultural events (assure your training is not planned near a major Indian holiday)
  • Onboarding detail (for new employee training, sometimes the banks will come in to talk about direct deposit to the new employees, at a moment’s notice)
  • Birthday parties for the managers or team staff
  • Other team or company competitions (One of the most interesting I encountered was a t-shirt competition. That day all the participants came dressed in a t-shirt with a phrase or image on it. There as a judge that came in to judge the best shirt!) 
  • The big boss has invited you to lunch with him, and the lunch time gets extended for various reasons, so you arrive late back into the training or meeting room.   


Final Thoughts on Managing Time in Indian Meetings

Working in India as an Expat

The best bet is if you can do corporate trainings at retreat centers or five star hotels. That way the participants are out of the office and can’t be tempted to come back to their desks! Due to this some of the corporate trainings may happen on US holidays like Thanksgiving or 4th of July (especially if the team is an India-based team working with clients or colleagues in the US) or on Saturdays. In fact, the picture to the right is with a team I met in Hyderabad on the 4th of July one year! 

To summarize, be prepared to be flexible with your time frames when managing time in Indian meetings. Do not get offended as you would in the US if people are late. It also depends on the company culture. Some companies instill a culture of a more Western approach to timeliness. Also, keep in mind that how participants view their time in relation to training programs could be different than their approach to keeping time for client meetings. Attending a client meeting would take priority over attending a training, for instance. So if you are the US client, your meeting would be more likely to be attended than if you were a trainer delivering a training session, even if you were an external trainer. 

Previous articles in this series: 

Connecting with Indians in the Training Room 

Managing Time in India 
Designing Soft-Skills and Cross-Cultural Training Programs in India 

Published 10/14, updated 4/20


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