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.
Though 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, 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.
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, Jainism, etc.). Depending on the area, the holiday schedule may vary slightly. If you manage teams in different states, keep a holiday calendar for all of the different 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:
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)
Strikes and Bandhs
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.
Originally posted Oct. 4, 2018, Updated Oct. 2018, May 2020
Picture credits: India map: from India Languages page on Wikipedia, Indian language scripts: http://50thingstodobeforewedie.blogspot.com.
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