Michaela Mendes

Managing a Cross-Cultural Team: India

by Michaela Mendes
May 2020
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The country of India is the fastest-growing trillion-dollar economy in the world, and the fifth-largest economy, with a nominal GDP of $2.94 trillion. Six Indian cities (Bangalore, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune) have traditionally dominated the rankings for global outsourcing destinations, and though other regions have been creeping up on them, India is still arguably the first place companies turn for offshore knowledge workers. All of this makes it highly likely, if you have workers abroad, that some might be in India.

Part of India’s attraction to countries in the West are obvious. English is the main language for business there, much as it is in many areas of the West. The growing economy and India’s attractiveness as a market also make it a popular country for foreign investment. In fact, many experts say that India will be the world’s second-largest economy by 2030, pushing the U.S. out of second place and ranking only behind China.

India is particularly popular for outsourcing jobs such as support, customer service call centers and IT. This is in part due to the prevalence of English as well as the availability of a large supply of skilled talent.

India: By the Numbers

  • Population: 1.339 billion
  • Time Zone: Despite its size, India has just one time zone, the Indian Standard Time (IST or UTC/GMT +5.5).
  • Language: There is no national language in India, but official languages include Hindi and English for parliamentary proceedings and various languages at the state and territory level. English is the common language of business.
  • Currency: Indian Rupee
  • Office hours: Working hours are typically much later than in Western countries, sometimes starting as late as 10am or even noon and going late into the evening, with some not wrapping up until 9 or 10pm.
  • Appointments: Set a formal time for any meetings.
  • Scheduling: Meetings are best scheduled after 11am or in early afternoon. Indians don’t typically conduct business over meals.


Indian Management Style

Here are some more expectations Indian employees might have from you as a manager, or how you can expect your Indian managers to conduct themselves:

  • Micromanagement: It may feel like micromanagement to you, anyway. But Indian team members tend to be most comfortable when given specific, detailed direction. Your Indian team is probably very capable of being self-directed, entrepreneurial and pro-active—but they are likely not used to that expectation from a manager, so if you wish them to step up, you’ll also need to be extremely detailed about your desires, there. Many Indian entrepreneurs are building successful companies around expressly empowering employees.
  • Hands-off tasks: Indian bosses are not as likely to roll up their sleeves and get involved in mundane tasks as their Western counterparts. Your own status as manager means your team will expect a certain distance from small jobs, and you may get more than a few strange looks when you pitch in with your team, so be sure to explain your philosophy, if you do.
  • A flexible clock: India is a polychronic society—meaning workers there tend to have a more flexible relationship with time. Indian team members will often arrive later and stay later—to both work and meetings. Punctuality simply does not have the same rigidity as it does in the West.
  • Over-sharing (maybe): Polite small talk is not as common in India as in many Western countries. That’s because business relationships tend to be very personal. Indians often engage in lengthy personal conversation before getting meetings started—but those conversations are meaningful rather than simply polite. Don’t be surprised if your Indian peers also ask what seem to be prying questions right out of the gate—such as about your private life, your salary, etc. They are simply trying to get to know you, Indian style. At the same time, some Indians can sometimes be insular or exclusive or mistrusting of outsiders until they know you better.
  • Downtime: Indians are often at work for long hours, but not all of those hours are spent working. In fact, Indians often take breaks for breakfast, tea and dinner in addition to lunch, and in many start-up environments may also take breaks for social connection or even a kip in a nap-pod.
  • Separate tables: Indian bosses don’t typically dine with employees in a business context. In fact, meetings aren’t as commonly held over meals as they are in Western countries. If you are having a working lunch, be sure not to forget that a large number of Indians are also vegetarian. Be sure they’d be okay with you ordering meat, before you do.


What To Expect from Your Indian Employees


What should you be expecting from your team members in India? Here are some of the broad brushstrokes of common attitudes, behaviors and beliefs you might encounter from your India employees:

  • Deference: India is hierarchical, and leadership positions typically accompany age. Workers who are lower down the hierarchy have not been traditionally empowered to make decisions, and many may not be comfortable taking that initiative, even after being invited. But don’t mistake deference for respect, which must still be earned. In a recent survey, Indian workers rated managers highly, but 95% still said they think they could do their managers’ jobs better than they could.
  • Social eating and drinking: Indian employees have a friendly work culture, where socializing is often integrated into the workday.  Don’t be surprised if your Indian peers want to take you out for food and drink, during the day or after hours.
  • Directness: In western countries, “please” and “thank you” are ubiquitous and required for politeness. In India, however, they can be seen as excessively formal. Indians might prefer specific words of appreciation instead of a general thank you.
  • Agreement: Indian culture has a strong sense of “face” and Indian workers have a compulsion to be pleasing when they communicate.  Being critical, or giving someone a direct ‘no’ is considered to be quite rude. You may need to look closer at what your team is trying to say if they sound evasive. Read between the lines, because your team members in India will typically work hard to avoid conflict, even if it creates confusion.
  • Life/work blurring: Indian workers typically start their day later, stay later at work, and work more days in the week than in Western countries. However, they also take long lunches, tea breaks and even breakfast and dinner breaks. They spend more time being social at work, and generally blur the lines between work-life and private life.
  • Social responsibility: India is still a country with high levels of poverty, often in direct juxtaposition to employees’ homes and workplaces. The government has not devised adequate intervention, so many Indians feel a strong sense of social responsibility, corporate citizenship, and desire to “give back”.


For a more thorough overview of hiring employees in India, please visit our Globalpedia.

Looking for more advice on finding, hiring, and managing your global team?

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Michaela Mendes

Michaela Mendes

Michaela is passionate about helping brands build better relationships with their customers through creative storytelling. She has 9+ years of experience in content creation, digital advertising, social media, and community growth.

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