Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

India Cultural Differences: Hierarchy

with 2 comments

One of the more interesting differences between Indian culture and my own is that in India there appears to be more adherence to a hierarchy than I’ve experienced before.

ThoughtWorks tries to keep a reasonably flat hierarchy so I think the idea of hierarchy would be much more obvious if I was working at one of the big Indian services organisations.

Between peers conversations don’t seem to play out any differently but someone in a position of authority is more likely to be able to get their opinion across and accepted with less resistance than they might experience without that authority.

On several occasions it’s been only me and maybe a couple of others involved in discussions if someone in an authority position expresses an opinion assertively.

I asked several colleagues why this was and they pointed out that when they’d previously expressed an opinion in that type of situation it didn’t have any impact so they’d stopped doing so.

I can’t decide whether or not it really matters – the situations where authority has any influence are relatively infrequent – but it would be cool if all opinions were assessed just on merit.

Of course these are just my observations so it’d be interesting to hear others’ experiences.

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Written by Mark Needham

December 27th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Distributed Agile

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  • Marcin

    This summer I spent 6 weeks in India. I was in a small
    desert village (Khuri) close to Jaisalmer. We stayed in a small,
    family-owned hotel – max. 20 beds. The management and operation
    hierarchy was the following Owner -> Manager -> Cook
    -> 2 x Cook Helper Everybody was giving orders and yelling
    (better said passing screams) from the top to the bottom. It was
    funny to see the owner resting and reading a newspaper. All his
    stuff was close to him, just watching him reading. There is a giant
    leap from a small village to ThoughtWorks headquarters, but maybe
    this history will give you another insight on Indian
    relationships.

  • Raghuram

    Marky, Interesting observation. Off late my reading has
    focused on our propensity to change – be it to a new process or a
    practice introduced in a team setting or just change, that one
    needs to accommodate to due to extraneous factors. I’m lead to
    believe that there are various dimensions that come into play and
    culture is one such dimension. Here’s one behaviour that I have
    observed (perhaps it might relate to other differences that you may
    have noticed) and is evidenced by studies from respected sources:
    When responsibility is delegated, a Western worker might find it
    empowering. But the same might upset an Asian worker – who might
    think the manager wasn’t doing his job properly and off loading all
    work to him/her. (Assuming the Western & Asian workers in
    context have not actively worked in a multi-cultural setting to be
    in a position to appreciate certain action.) I think our emergent
    behaviour – both weak and strong is greater than the sum of all our
    experiences. Culture being one dimension of the experience. Now,
    can one change the observed behaviours, the one you noticed and the
    one above? I’d like to think yes. ~ Raghu