“We all work for the same (US) company, why aren’t the guys in Bangalore more open with us?”
The frustrated manager who said this…was Indian! But he had worked his whole career in the US and was not in touch with what motivated Indian team members to share the good, bad and the ugly with their remote manager.
In Charis Working with India programs, Western team leaders ask how to get their India team members to take more individual initiative, make clear commitments (does ‘yes’ mean yes?), and be willing to admit problems early.
Charis recommends these gold nuggets Westerners can apply to build trust and motivate more collaboration across the distance and difference with Indian teams.
- “Analyze before Commit” – This golden rule for Indian engineers prioritizes being accurate, first and foremost. Pressuring them to estimate a distant delivery date can be an unsuccessful exercise for everyone, as they may indulge in people pleasing behavior and state a delivery date they are not able to meet. Give the Indian team members time to analyze the task or project and come back with their commitment and requirements. Have frequent check-ins per week, to be sure the project is on track, and there is no deadline slippage.
- Harmony is crucial; avoid embarrassment, anger, confrontation. – Some will be quite assertive and talkative, while others may be quite reserved; whatever the personality, respect in this collectivist culture is crucial. Even if you feel frustration or anger, don’t show it outwardly. Maintain your composure, Indians will continue communicating with you and increase their respect for you.
- Identify decision-makers. – Generally, authority and decision-making is retained at high levels in the organization. If you’re not getting action from your Indian counterpart, escalating can get results.
- Circle back 3x to check “yes”, understanding, or buy-in. – Indian conversation style is often circular, revisiting a topic to add more info, clarify, read between the lines, insist a bit to get an agreement. Particularly in a culture where it is rude to say “no”, circling back is the best way to clarify a hesitant yes into a clear commitment or a verified negative.
- Build teamwork with explicit instruction. – A common complaint from Indian team members is that Americans “throw instructions over the wall”, meaning cryptic directions are emailed at the end of the US work day, and are not substantive enough for Indians to know what needs to be done. Often Indians will avoid the risk of inaccurate actions, and delays ensue. Give clear, detailed, step-by-step procedures.
- Be conscious of rank in the room. – Junior staff will usually not disagree or speak up in a meeting with higher ranking members present. It is useful to ask individual team members what they think on a particular issue. This tactic encourages them to speak up, and let them know that their opinions matter. If you still need the junior staff’s input, follow up with a one-on-one communication.
- Give the “big picture”. – Spending the time up front to discuss the context in which the work will be done gives Indians the logical framework in which their tasks make sense. Share the strategy, project goal, client relationship, inter-departmental dependencies or other “big picture” context, and you may save a lot of time clarifying why and how later on.
- Be friendly, flexible, and have a network of Indian contacts (work & social). – In interviews and training with over 400 Indian engineers, software and IT professionals, Charis finds that “Career opportunity, open communication, direct approach to solving problems, and friendly relationships” are most highly valued, consistently, among Indians in high tech. Indian culture, cuisine, cricket, education, entrepreneurship, and democracy are points of pride that you can explore when motivating Indian team members.
- Role Model: Walk the talk! – If the team values risk-taking, be explicit about your expectations for initiative and risk taking. Be a risk taker, and praise openly the risk taking that has been exhibited by team members.
- Story telling works wonders. – Share personal work experiences of any problem solving methods you employed. Let your team members know of any projects/situations that are similar to the one you are working on and some of the key learning you have gleaned from experience.
Next! To expand your knowledge and skills in working with Indians and other cultures in global teams, request more resources and contact Anjali Rao, Manager India Practice or Ashok Mathur, Manager India Strategy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 925.931.0555