Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Donald Chand on Multicultural Teams

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Donald Chand on Multicultural Teams
March 2007 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Donald Chand
Professor of Information
Process Management at Bentely College.

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  • Apart from the challenges, how do the other complicating factors influence the multicultural team members' group behavior?
    During our research we were told many times by the onshore managers that the Indian workers do not push and do not show initiative. The crosscultural training manual noted that Indian workers are meek and do not seek leadership. However, when we visited the Indian sites of our research firm, we discovered that the average age of the Indianworker is 25with 1.2 years of experiencewith the firm, and that these Indian workers have to interface with US workers where the average age is

    45 and over 10 years of experience with the firm or the system. This leads to the question: Is the root cause for the behavior of the Indian workers a national characteristics or a new employee syndrome?

    We listened to several conference calls between the US team leader and the Indian team. We observed that when the US lead was a person of Indian origin, the Indian team was more vocal and comfortable in pushing back things and deadlines that were not doable. This suggests to us that it iswrong to associate behavior to simplified national culture models. One has to look at the context. In organizations that are building new offshore sites and engaging with vendors, the relative age and experience of the distributed personnel needs to be considered when trying to achieve an integrated GVT.

  • People worry about being called bigots or racists when they speak about diversity issues in theworkplace?What do you think is the best possibleway to neutralize such perceptions and derive the benefits of multicultural teams' diversity strength?
    The most important factor is the general organizational message regarding the importance of diverse members of the workforce, whatever the basis of that diversity. At the same time, programs that try to increase sensitivity of diversity can result in increase of perceived differences and social distance between groups. As we mentioned earlier the traditional cross cultural training is creating an environment where stereotyping is given legitimation, and stereotyping in its worst form leads to bigotry and racism. Our approach to neutralizing racism and bigotry is to build and sustain trust through the establishment of an intragroup (versus an intergroup) orientation. This is what we refer to as the Pronoun Progression: moving from "Us/Them" (intergroup) to "You/I" (interpersonal) to "We" (intragroup or collective). Ultimately, the social distance has to be reduced, social networks expanded and social capital increased.

  • Does nationality of company ownership evoke dysfunctional behavior amongst multicultural team members? Take the case of a software company from India. When this company forms a multicultural teams to its offshore projects, the team members from US (assume an outsourcing backlash against Indian BPO companies' knocking off their native jobs) might not give their best, resulting in low productivity and unsatisfactory execution of the project.
    We have seen examples where workers collaborate despite this backlash because they see each other as having commonalities and similarities. So, despite the fact that an American might be training his or her Indian replacement, he works with that person because the person is not seen as responsible for the changes in the organization and economy. Rather, the Indian person is a worker just like the American worker.

    Also, it is important to understand the difference between the Indian IT subcontractor firms with the globalization strategy of US firms. In general the Indian IT subcontractor firms' employees are of Indian origin. Whereas, the US firms are establishing work site globally and their employees are truly multicultural. Therefore, the problems of the Indian IT subcontractor firms are different from those of US firms. As a consequence, their approaches are different. Indian IT firms diffuse the cultural trust, time zone and communications problems by placing 20%of the Indian staff at the onshore customer site. This team bridges the gaps between the offshore workers and the US clients. The US firms do have the luxury of bridge teams. Their view is that the team members are distributed globally and the teammust find away to effectively collaborate. As Indian IT firms start purchasing other IT companies across national boundaries, they will face the same problems thatUS firms are facing in building an effective global workforce.

1. Multicultural Teams Case Studies
2. ICMR Case Collection
3. Case Study Volumes

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