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What are Your Indian Team Mates Good at?
This is my site Written by Thomas Tøth on October 20, 2012 – 8:19 PM

In interviews, casual conversations, cultural training sessions and other encounters with Danes working with Indian counterparts in offshoring setups I have asked variations of the headline of this blog post at least 200 times over the last couple of years.

Usually I either draw or ask people to imagine a horizontal line. At one end of the line is what they themselves are really good at and their Indian counterparts are really bad at. At the other end of the line is the opposite. That is, something that the Indian counterparts are excellent at and they themselves are poor at.

 
This is normally something I bring up when the conversation has turned towards a discourse of blaming, criticizing or complaining about the Indian counterparts. So, I ask people to tell me what is on the left side of the line.

What do you think the majority of people answer?

Roughly 90% answer that they have actually never considered that question – and then they turn to look at me anticipating an enlightning answer.

Now, I don’t believe that there is a universal answer to the question. So, in a sense I guess I am dissappointing them. It all depends on a lot of different factors, including company culture; experience; personal characteristics; talent et cetera. But that is not the point. Rather the point is to move focus away from negativity and to (at least for a short while) focus on something positive – or, in most cases I must admit, to prove a point.

And my point is that if I asked the same question to the same people about their spouse; best friend; brother; sister; or the guy sitting next to them in the office; they would all be able to come up with an answer pretty fast.

So, howcome they have never considered the same question when it comes to their Indian counterparts – people that most of them are in contact with numerous times per week? Whether it is because of a very strong “not-invented-here” syndrome in Danish organization; or a general homogenity in the society with relatively little exposure to foreign cultures; or something completely different, I don’t know. But I am absolutely certain that efficient team work and a good work atmosphere (as well as all other human relations, by the way) starts with acknowledging your counterpart and his/her abilities and potential unique contribution.

In my experience this is vastly neglected when forming virtual teams. Only in rare occasions does a Danish project/line manager put specific focus on offshore counterparts’ abilities and merits. Rather, focus is – explicitly or implicitly – on offshoring as something that can minimize costs; secure flexibility in staffing; or in many cases: a necessity due to the strategic direction coming from top management. And a focus solely on one or more of these factors will put the project in high risk of failure with regards to the offshoring endeavour as it inevitably leads to distrust in the Indian counterpart; lack of respect for their time, effort and abilities; and a significant barrier to learning from “the others”.

So: tell me: What are your Indian counterparts really good at? What can you learn from them? What is their potential unique contribution to your team?

 

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