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Article by Mohan Babu


Global workplace II: Cultural diversity at the workplace

Organisational behaviour experts agree that each team and group builds its own working dynamics. As a colleague, manager or supervisor, there may be steps that you might have to take to identify the important aspects of each culture in your department or within the team, says MOHAN BABU

In the previous part of this column, I began my letter responding to a reader based in the Midwestern US who had inquired about managing cultural aspects at the workplace, a topic that is gaining prominence as we enter a world closer to the mythical global marketplace. In continuation, my response to Ms Debbie follows.

Globalisation is upon us and like it or not, we will have to embrace it. Along with the globalisation comes the need to interact, communicate and network with partners, vendors, suppliers, outsourcers and others from around the world. Historically, America has been a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities and has welcomed people from world-over for generations. One would then assume that Americans would be at ease in a global context. However, the reality is the converse: Though America has been a melting-pot, it had evolved a distinct subculture of its own, taking aspects from different cultures and ethnicities but building a conformist culture of its own. To be a part of the great “melting pot,” a general perception exists that one has to cultivate the American mindset. Though it is hard to define what an “American mindset” is, an argument can be made that a certain centre-of-the-universe attitude permeates from Americans while dealing with their international counterparts.

Though the perception has been that the general populace in the US is inward centric, this is undergoing a change even as we speak.

There is little doubt that work teams and groups are getting to be really international even in Middle-America as evident from the fact that though you are based in the heart of Cowboy Country, you are already planning to equip yourself with skills of multicultural management. As a colleague, manager, or a supervisor, you will definitely have to identify with your teammates—many of whom are going to be from a different cultural and ethnic background than you—and ensure that they are on board with regards the objectives of your organisation and group.

Experts who study organisational behaviour agree that each team and group builds its own working dynamics. You rightly make a point of wondering in your mail that as a colleague, manager, or a supervisor, there may be steps that one might have to take to identify the important aspects of each culture in your department or within the team. I have known western managers to attempt to draw out their Indian colleagues by getting them to talk about the sub-cultures of the Indian subcontinent, languages, ethnicities and vegetarianism. They do it consciously without being abrasive so that their foreign colleagues get a sense of belonging and bond with the team. Similarly, I have known Indian colleagues take their British or German co-workers out to local pubs during their stay in Bangalore. Outsourcing is a two-way street: western managers and employees regularly travel to India to oversee projects, participate in technical discussions or evaluate vendors. Such exercises help build cultural bridges; when they go back to their native lands, people who have traveled are more inclined to empathise with their foreign co-workers.

The process of communication works both ways. People migrating to distant lands need to make a conscious attempt to assimilate into the mainstream, at the same time managers and executives-in-waiting like yourselves need to be open to accept and embrace change wrought by the advent of people with different backgrounds, values and cultures.

As regards your query on the availability of resources to learn about the Indian culture the internet is perhaps the best source. There are several websites and portals that delve deep into this topic. Several portals also deal extensively with information on international culture and nuances. Needless to say, books on culture and international travel and etiquette also abound.

As I conclude this note, I began to reflect on my response. Though I have attempted to cover most of the pertinent topics raised by you, I am left with a nagging feeling that I have not done complete justice to the depth of the topic. This is perhaps a thought that occurs to management gurus and cultural coaches at organisations who grapple with the nuances cross-cultural communication and team building all the time. The fact that individuals like you are beginning to evince interest in this facet of your work lives goes to prove the significance of multi-cultural business world we are headed towards.






About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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