While the ink on the offshoring contract is still drying, it is the right time to start engaging with your new Indian team in a way which nurtures the new relationship and builds trust on both sides. The new booklet Engaging with India by Dr Wolfgang Messner, Director of GloBus Research Ltd., shows why culture matters in relationships with India and provides practical tips; a complimentary ecopy can be requested on www.globusresearch.com.
Developing competence in intercultural communication is usually a process, a series of trials and errors, a chain of experiences during which insight is developed, assumptions are drawn and tested; but some tips and tricks can help to put you on the fast lane.
When we engage with our business partners in India, there are three cultural traits that impact the business collaboration and thereby our performance the most:
- The way Indians communicate.
- The role the Indian manager takes in an organization.
- And the way Indians deal with each other and their business partners.
In many Western cultures, employees only expect a management framework to guide them in their work. In India, however, employees require and demand a much more detailed job description. The importance of the job is underlined by explaining the task (sometimes more than once) and by asking for status updates (sometimes several times a day). This kind of monitoring does not necessarily have to be a formal review meeting, but it could happen in the shape of a short chat, an email, or a telephone call. It is typically done by the Indian team lead or the distributed delivery coordinator and a good offshore delivery set-up ensures that the Western client does not even notice these internal team dynamics.
A good Indian manager controls by asking questions. This is not only a way of getting a grip of the project status but also for exchanging ideas. Powerful questions make Indians think proactively, follow a line of thought, and achieve a much better buy-in from the subordinates:
- “What information (input) do you need to complete the project on time?”
- “Which alternatives do you have?”
- “How can I support you?”
- “What has been achieved in the project so far?”
- “How does this approach ensure quality?”
Such questions require formulating an answer other than yes or no; and from the quality of the answer one can then make out if the content of the communication has been understood. One needs to collect feedback on one’s own words, do self-monitoring, and decide upon the necessity to rephrase. In face-to-face meetings, the best clue is to look at the faces of the Indian counterparts, and a confused or puzzled look will be a good indication that the message did not land and one has to rephrase or explain again. In telephone calls, good powerful questions help to monitor one’s own conversation:
- “What are the next steps you will take?”
- “What input do you need from me?”
- “What obstacles do you foresee?”
All this may look a little bit like dancing around the table, but it is effective in a way that it overcomes the Indian tendency not to directly ask for clarifications. And when you don’t understand your Indian colleagues yourself, another good advice is to frequently ask for clarifications and re-phrasing– thereby implicitly encouraging your Indian colleagues to do the same with you!
Unless you have worked extensively in global teams and with Indian counterparts before, you owe it to yourself, to your company, and last but not least to your Indian colleagues, to get even better acquainted with managing distributed teams and intercultural communication. The usual cross-cultural behavioural training is completely meaningless in this respect; it is only useful for expatriates to help them manage their daily life in India. But if you are serious about improving your communication and cooperation with your Indian colleagues and thereby contribute to secure the success of your offshore projects, a good start would be to request the complimentary ecopy of Engaging with India by Wolfgang Messner on www.globusresearch.com.