When thinking about cultural differences, people look at superficial things first. Indians eat samosas and have arranged marriages while Americans love hamburgers and freedom. Although there is a lot of truth to these statements — or at least there was a few years ago as Indians are now mostly having love marriages and Americans have given up the idea of due process in favor of having the government engage in kidnapping and torturing suspected threats to national security. But, putting aside my snide remarks and cheap blows to American values, culture is complicated. One could say that culture is an evolving body of commonly embraced ideas and practices in a particular geographic area or social circle — or both. Cultures influence each other as they merge and the study of how they influence each other is quite complicated.
In any case, what I found in India — samosas aside, is that there is a vast shortage of leaders and followers. Few in India lead, and even fewer follow. So, how does business get done? Many companies have self-managing employees. What a concept. Is there a system of checks and balances? Additionally, there is very little question and answer as it is bad manners to question your authorities in India. Unfortunately, sometimes you need to question your authorities to clarify their instructions, ask for opinions if there are multiple ways of tackling a task, and sometimes it is good to criticize them when they are off base. As India is a very authoritarian culture (the opposite of America) it is hard for the locals to ask enough good questions and to have meaningful interactions between people of different levels in a company.
So, just how do people interact in Indian companies? I am not so familiar since I have only observed as a customer. They seem to like to get together to have chai time every day as I also do. I have heard that the lower level employees like to huddle around a higher placed employee or boss. Perhaps they think that their physical proximity to him/her will help the greatness of the boss rub off on them. Or perhaps they feel they will gain more privilege at the company if they do.
But, what if Indian companies adapted a system of letting inexperienced employees lead the entire company? Most people think that their job lacks job satisfaction and meaning. I know a way to give your job meaning. You get to run the entire company for a day or a week. Of course you can’t just let anyone do that. You have to train them and give them smaller responsibilities first to build them up to the level where they can handle an entire company. Additionally, let’s try to remember back in time when we were taking driver’s education. I remember that my teacher had a brake pedal on his side of the car so that if I made a mistake, he could intervene and take over at a moment’s notice. What if running a company were like that and the boss could let someone else manage everything, but if he saw something bad happening, he could step in. It is an interesting concept and I think it would make great material for a reality show, blog, or just plain meaningful gossip. I bet Donald Trump would love a scenario like the one I just described. But, if you mess up…