As many of you know, one of my biggest passions in life is working with U.S. clients who partner with offshore teams in India. We help them to build more united, efficient teams that deliver the best results. From time to time, I can’t help but wonder how I became such an offshoring geek! I read blogs about the subject in my spare time, I pre-order the latest offshoring books on Amazon, and I grab every opportunity to go to India and visit with my clients and their providers.
After over a decade of doing this work, I think I understand why it is so appealing. Nothing can replace the feeling of watching U.S. and Indian counterparts opening their eyes to each other’s cultures and values. Let me give you an example.
Many of my U.S.-based clients complain that their offshore providers in India don’t inform them when a project issue comes up until it’s too late and the project timeline is in danger. “That isn’t right” say the U.S. team members. They feel the lack of communication is dishonest.
From the Indian perspective, however, clients have a high status. It’s not right to bring a client bad news without having done everything in your power to resolve it first. Only then do you inform them of the problem.
Two approaches, one bundle of frustration!
When we deliver training sessions to both sides of the team about the different approaches to delivering bad news, you can almost feel the “a-ha!” emanating from the participants. Both sides realize that their counterpart had positive intent, they simply assumed that others operated according to their respective cultural rules.
The solution? We recommend being open about these style differences and coming to a mutual agreement on how to handle that particular situation. In this example, the onshore client would make a request of the offshore team members: “In order for us to work together as a team, I want to share how I like project bad news delivered. If I am informed within 12 hours of the discovery of the issue, we can collaborate to solve it.”
To be a high-performing onshore/offshore team, you need both knowledge and empathy. If you develop your knowledge of Indian business culture but are unable to understand the struggles your counterparts face, you will not reap the full benefit of a multicultural team. If you have the empathy but lack the strategies to address cultural differences, the result will be the same. But put the two together and you could be one of those statistics that shows that multicultural teams can exceed the performance of single-culture teams.
Along with knowledge and empathy, being on a team with people who are different from you is a great way to keep yourself learning and growing professionally. All cultures have a lot of complexity built in; this means that there is always more to understand about their history, geography, diversity, business approach, customs, holidays, food, and more.
I encourage you to pick one area of your work where you could boost your cultural knowledge. Perhaps you would benefit from learning more about the history of India, or the communication style in Kansas City. Empathy, of course, is always yours to give.
I look forward to hearing how knowledge and empathy have helped your teams!