In a number of blog posts I have stressed the importance of understanding the culture when you work and live abroad. Two years in India have made me even surer that this is a key factor to succeed. Over there I met some people who really enjoyed being there and really had managed to climb what I call the adaption ladder. But there were also people who hardly went out from their flats and who seemed to not at all enjoy being in India.
So if you have been giving the task to work with people from a different culture, how can you prepare? Before I went to India I read a number of books. One of them really stood out and today’s blog post is a quick review of that book.
Working with India is written by Wolfgang Messner. He’s a German citizen who has worked a number of years in India. In many ways he did what I did a few years before me. Mr. Messner collected a lot of information about India and put it into this book. Everyone who works with India should read this book. Both before going to India and while being there. I did reread a lot of it while being there.
The book starts with a chapter about culture and why cultural competence is required. Hofstede culture dimensions are being described here. For me there are two main takings from this chapter. First of all that culture is something you can barely see. Mr. Messner describes it as an iceberg. Only like 10 % is above the surface. Rest of it you must “dive into” to really realize and understand. And it takes time. The other main point for me is that it is important to understand who you are and to have an open mind when you step into another culture.
Next two chapters are about India as such. One chapter about the history and one about the society. Both of these are very good introductions to these subjects. Particularly to understand something about the society you live in is important. The Indian caste system and the role of the family are described here. The importance of the family is something that still stands out as one of the main differences between Norway and India. Every time there is something I find a bit strange, I go back and reread this chapter. Doing this and adding some critical thinking has made me at least starting to understand the meaning of the word “family” in India.
After these introduction chapters there is a chapter with give an introduction to the Indian IT & BPO industry. Again Mr. Messner shows his excellent competence in what he writes.
The last four questions are the hard core of the book. This is the chapters that are important in your day to day business with your Indian counterparts.
Chapter five is about human resources and how Indian companies handle people. A number of times I have heard people complaining that attrition in India are so high that it is almost impossible to work with Indians. By reading this chapter you will understand more the perspective of people are in India. This knowledge is crucial for you to make sure you get the right people to your project and it also give you some ideas about what to do to keep them.
Next chapter is about interactions with India. As a non-native English speaker, I’m not the right person to complain about the way Indians speak in English. But as my recent blog post about misunderstanding of a term like full package show, misunderstandings happen often and are a big threat for your project. Read this chapter and you will at least get an idea about what misunderstandings that might happen and how you can prevent them.
Chapter seven is about how to conduct projects offshore. Here you get some input about how to set up and run your project. If I have any complaints about this book it is this chapter. I could wish it was much bigger! I would have liked more concrete ideas about how to do things. I know there is another book about this and will probably do a review of that book soon too.
The book wraps up with a chapter about use of expatriates and some quick recommendations about effective collaboration.
As I said in the introduction, this is a book that I have read over and over again. First time I read it from first to last page. After that I have used it as a reference book. Even today I quite often read in it if there are some things that are uncertain to me.
If you ever plan to do business in India this is a must read! And it is even a book that should not be only in your bookshelf but at your desk during your day-to-day work!
Talk to you soon