As briefly touched in a previous post ‘How Long is One Second?,’ I had an opportunity to support an offshoring transition project from an American IT vendor to an Indian one. It was a big project involving hundreds of people – Americans and Indians (and one Japanese.) While the project itself was quite interesting, what excited me more was to witness what can happen when one culture, say the Southern American, faces a close encounter with another completely different culture, say the Southern Indian.
There was a shock wave when the offshore transition was announced. The US-based employees had been working closely with a local vendor for years. They know each other well. The vendor account manager brings home-made cookies to support her daughter’s girl scout fundraising. The on-site developer is a regular member of the Thursday’s all-you-can-eat pizza lunch. How can they be replaced by the people from the other side of the world?
Close Encounters of First Kind – Sighting
The American employees, who had never worked with the Indians, had no idea how to work with them. The only knowledge they had at the time was some stereotypical image of the Indians. They eat spicy curry (which we cannot handle) and enjoy cricket (not football.) In short, they are different from us. People came up with a hundred of reasons why this project would fail.
Close Encounters of Second Kind – Physical Impact
Once the American and Indian teams started interacting each other, the fear became real. They only eat vegetable curry and don’t eat beef. They not only enjoy cricket but are crazy about it. The differences were not only on the diet and sports, but also on the communication and work style. The Americans got frustrated, angry, and unhappy.
The Indians was struggling, too. They felt sad as their American customers were not happy despite their best effort. They felt sad because their Indian management were not happy either. Their appetite dropped partially due to the stress and partially due to the lack of Indian menu at the office cafeteria.
Close Encounters of Third Kind – Contact
Like any other cross-cultural crashes, the only and the best remedy was deep interaction. After some time, the both sides understood each other better and adjusted themselves accordingly. Small changes happened at the ground level. The offshore guy shared some pictures of his wedding with his American counterpart and explained him its cultural aspect. The American guy taught why Thanksgiving is important for them to his offshore mate, who in turn started sending a nice e-greetingcard for Thanksgiving every year since then. A team of Americans travelled to offshore, watched a cricket match, and came back to the US with a cricket bat as a souvenir.
‘Just close your eyes and hold your breath and everything will turn real pretty’ from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)‘