A majority of high-tech professionals work with peers or managers overseas as a regular part of their job. At this stage of the economic lifecycle India is still largely viewed as a ‘low-cost services’ site by most U.S. and European companies. That view is short-sighted and unwise as many studies have shown. However, there is a strong historic bias that needs to be overcome. Although cross-cultural collaboration is a very comprehensive and complex topic, this short article attempts to provide some guidance for the different situations that a manager is likely to encounter, of course, with many exceptions.
The people-management issues are different and more intense in the Indian context. A typical overseas manager is unlikely to understand and provide job satisfaction to his India team if he were managing it directly. This is the reason I strongly believe why all India teams should directly report to an India manager and leave any remote reporting to the senior level managers. A senior manager will have the maturity to provide the level of abstraction to bridge any cultural differences. This type of organization requires a matrix management structure and the senior managers should feel comfortable with having two or more bosses.
Every single manager needs to create an environment that does not promote an Us vs. Them’ mindset with the remote teams. Whatever means that is possible should be used to build trust between the distributed teams. This requires maturity from the manager that often requires overcoming his or her own bias of the situation. Although there could be some exceptions, it is safe to say that the typical manager on both sides is interested in the success of the project rather than worry about one country taking away jobs of the other. If the India team feels they are given the more ‘dull and dirty’ kind of work and cannot be worked out at a team level, the problem should be addressed at the senior levels. The senior level managers on both sides need to have a common understanding on the role of the India team.
One of the reasons that keep the India teams working on less complex tasks or own lower priority projects is the perception among overseas managers that the India teams do not understand the customer. While the cultural differences add to the ‘risk concern’ the perception that the India team may not be ready for higher-level responsibilities also is prevalent. While the former concern has merit, the latter is something that the overseas managers have to overcome through better interaction with their India teams including spending substantial time with them. To overcome these two situations, the India managers should push for better customer and business exposure for their teams.
A typical major project has close customer interaction during the development lifecycle prior to the product being released. That could be in the form of either joint requirements development or joint testing (often called Beta testing). The India team can volunteer to handle these two joint lifecycle processes for the APAC region. A team that works closely with the customers will soon show innovative abilities that would be impossible to achieve without understanding the customers. That requires support from the company in the interest of getting the most out of India in the long run. After all, India and China are likely to be among the biggest markets for all successful global companies, and who can be better suited to understand those requirements than teams in this region. Until then, India’s value will be predominantly as a low-cost site which, in my parlance does not mean low-quality or low-complexity or low-innovation or low ROI.
Until the tide turns to allow for a more significant role for India teams, it is important to understand the customer as best you can in the present situation, and do what’s right for your business.