Monday, December 20, 2010

More on Culture

As I mentioned in my last blog post, one of the presentations at last week's P2P was on the challenges of implementing Agile in the Egyptian culture. Since I'm working with a team in India, I wanted to take a look at how Indian culture aligns with Agile.

One area of consideration is that of the self-organizing team. Indian culture supports team work. However, there is also respect for hierarchy, so the team may not feel empowered to make decisions. The team may feel the need to defer to a senior person for decisions. I have found that I am being asked to make more decisions compared to a US based team.

Indian culture also tends to avoid open confrontation. I think some conflict can be good as the team is developing. On my US-based teams, it isn't unusual for one developer to provide constructive criticism to another's work. This type of feedback should be delivered with a softer tongue for my off-shore team.

Another area that I have noticed relates to communications. Indian culture puts more emphasis on written communications. I know my off-shore teams have often asked for more formal requirements documents than what I expect from a US based team. One adjustment I've had to make is to provide more documentation for my off-shore team to work from.

Indian businesspeople tend to be tough, smart negotiators. While this conflicts the idea of customer collaboration over contract negotiation, successful negotiation is built on trust. However, building this trust can take time. In my case, I had time to start working on building that trust before the project work started up.

So what does this really mean? First, my points are just generalizations. For anyone working with other cultures, this type of understanding is just the starting point. You shouldn't rely solely on generalizations for determining how to work with your team any more than you would use New Yorkers as a benchmark for working with Americans from other parts of the US. For any cross-culture work, take the time to know the people you are working with.

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