Monday, May 3, 2010

On Team work and Indians

Most will agree that Indians have shown a poor track record when it comes to team work ( and cooperation ) . There are innumerable examples. If we consider sports Indians are world champions in individual games like chess , cue sports and have done well in wrestling ,archery and boxing . None of the team based sports like soccer , volleyball , hockey (cricket is not a team sport in the real sense ) have Indians in the lead . Why have we succeeded in software and pharma research, because in both areas, people can work on their own, figuring out algorithms or molecular structures. The negative conclusion: Indians don't work well in teams. Indian diaspora working and living outside India whether in the US ,UK or Africa have not been able to get together and the Indian government has not also facilitated this effectively . This is in sharp contrast to the Chinese where a major part of FDI into China is from overseas Chinese.

When the Japanese came to work in India to develop the Maruti Suzuki car, a joke went around that one Indian was equal to 10 Japanese: Indians were very smart, capable and dedicated individuals. But 10 Indians were equal to 1 Japanese: Indians lacked team spirit and co-operation.(Refer article by Sam Pitroda)

A popular metaphor related to team work is that Indians have a ‘crab‘ mentality . If someone is trying to climb higher and achieve more, the others just drag him down. The signal that the others send out is, " I wouldn't do it; I wouldn't let you do it; and if by chance you start succeeding, we will all gang up and make sure that you don't get to do it." (Refer article by Sam Pitroda)

Why are Indians are so poorly endowed when it comes to team work ? A peep into history and culture will unravel the mystery ….

History is replete with many examples of our lack of team work . Porus lost to Alexander .So was the case in India – China war of 1962, ….and one of the reasons for the British to come into India ( Refer Gurcharan Das - India Unbound )

The genesis of the problem could be traced to the hierarchical and feudalistic system followed in the Indian sub-continent for ages. Today’s India was once a huge number of smaller princely states or kingdoms where feudalism and hierarchical social system was prevalent everywhere . Seniority and with it power and influence were the main tenets for doing just about anything .The caste system which was designed to be an excellent tool for resource allocation and productivity got corrupted and hijacked into serving subservient ends and dominated cultural and social practices . So while India imbibed the democratic system and could do away with the Maharajas , but the basic cultural and social practices could not be changed overnight ( understandably , as progress would obviously be very much slower in a social context )

A fall-out of the hierarchical and feudal social structure and work culture is the emphasis on respectability and status between white and blue collared workers or physical and mental workers . Granted ,that this feeling is not the same around the country and it differs from place to place in terms of sectors , however it still exists as a basic ethos .

Team work requires not only good leadership but also followership . While Indians accept the need for the former the latter is rarely understood . A hierarchical mindset , status consciousness and deficiency in some qualities - respect for others, openness, honesty, communication, willingness to disagree, resolution of conflict and giving importance to the larger goal of the team (Refer article Sam Pitroda )instead of the individual or personal agendas - all these contribute to the poor showing in being team players .

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