Week Two: IWA & Cultural Idiosyncrasies


I ostensensibly moved to Bangalore for a job. I needed that next career step in an operational role, and I love a challenge. I wanted to develop my skills and really push myself. So far, I certainly have achieved that goal. Every day presents new challenges to overcome and while the challenges are exciting, they can also be fairly tiring.
The idiosyncrasies of India have been well documented. For example, in the gym I use in my apartment complex, it has all been finished to a relatively high standard. However at some point, tradesmen have needed to access wiring in the ceiling, so they’ve cut numerous holes in the ceiling and I suspect those holes will be there forever. In my apartment, towel rails have been installed as per the picture… and this is how it’s remained.
There is a ‘close enough to complete’ mentality which is prevalent, and combined with the Indian’s love of seemingly pointless officious rules, we have coined the phrase ‘India Wins Again’, or, IWA. Sometimes, battling the status quo is just too hard and it’s well worth admitting defeat and moving on to the next project.
The cultural differences between Kiwis and Indians at work are ensuring that I’m definitely developing some new skills as a manager. In New Zealand, a large proportion of staff have a ‘number 8 wire’ mentality- if it doesn’t work, we’ll fix it. We will think around the problem and come up with an innovative idea. We also don’t like authority very much and rage against the machine at any chance we have. So, in New Zealand, I’ve been blessed with staff who don’t want to be managed, don’t want to be told what to do, and fix problems before they are problems. They are not without challenges, but this is the culture I’ve grown up with and I understand it.
Over here there is a definite deferment to authority. They appreciate having time with their boss, being asked what they are doing, and there is the belief that the boss is the person who is paid to think and come up with solutions, they are just the person who carries out the work as instructed. Indians also take pride in being able to complete work, and they don’t want to say no and to lose face. This creates the perfect storm of staff being asked to do things they aren’t trained or comfortable doing, they say they can do it, and then spend a long time fruitlessly trying to do so.
I maintain that a weakness and a strength are just opposite sides of the same coin. So while their deferment and inability to say no can be incredibly frustrating, they are also really keen to learn new things and will give anything a go. Generous, kind, and open to ideas.
It’s difficult for me because I’m used to being challenged if I suggest something that wont work. I expect people to be comfortable with telling me if a system or idea is terrible, because I have very general skills and they are the experts at what they do- they will know better than me. I’m having to change my approach completely because they will do precisely as they are told, even if what I’ve proposed is awful.
So I’ve spent some time coming up with strategies how to best accept these limitations (both of myself and staff) and how to get the results I want- a job completed to a high standard, finished on time, and within budget. Our staff also seem more comfortable with us now and are more willing to talk to us. We have a fantastic, skilled team who are starting to collaborate and create some fantastic synergies… let’s see how this week goes!

4 thoughts on “Week Two: IWA & Cultural Idiosyncrasies

  1. truly captured, as difficulty to say no to your authority. We try to complete task, but you need to make them comfortable so that they are able to say no. In India generally people say yes to authority and tend to follow order rather than using mind. the only reason is that here sometime, you won't be praised if you don't follow the regular route/ or follow the authority. you need to make people comfortable to allow them to say no, and also maintain the authority.

    I also like to towel rail, the jugaad in India !
    I hope you are enjoying the work and challenges.

  2. Haha. that is not exactly a good hindi word. Jugaad means when you re-engineer something to fit the environment or need without proper implementation for example the holes in the ceiling. it is very useful in villages in India, google it. as far as happy and comfortable environment is concerned you need to balance both authority and openness. Generally people fear authority so much that creativity is lost.

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