Increasingly, outsourcing projects happen cross-border which inevitably results in an increased amount of cross-cultural interaction. Any international shared-service centre environment must inevitably involve a high level of complex, multi-cultural interaction and if the bulk of your off-shore development or back office processing is India you are likely to encounter inter-cultural challenges.
How culturally fluent are your home teams prior to any transition activities? What have you done to ensure that your new outsourced resource has a good understanding of the cultural expectations of your home teams – and more importantly of your clients? Are you even aware of what some of the key cultural challenges you are likely to encounter might be or do you prefer to pretend that everything will be fine?
In our experience, managing global cultural complexity is one of the key difficulties any major cross-border outsourcing project is likely to face. These challenges are both strategic and interpersonal but all of them can have a dramatic impact on the overall effectiveness of your operation:
- Aligning structures: How will you structure your organisation in the new territory? This is a key strategic decision when opening a captive in another country and can also have a significant bearing if using a third-party provider. Many Western operations want to recreate their own flat systems around the world but this can cause chaos if your chosen outsource destination is a rigidly hierarchical country such as India. Get this decision wrong at the outset and you will live with the consequences for years.
- Leadership style: If you have people in the home teams leading team members in the outsourced destination then you are very, very likely to have a clash of leadership styles. Leadership is geographically conditional – what is good leadership style in one country is often viewed as poor leadership in another. Both leaders and team members need to understand these dynamics and adapt their approaches accordingly.
- Cultural Bias: Home teams are prone to equate ‘different’ with ‘wrong’. If colleagues in an outsourced destination have an approach to any specific task which is different from how it is normally performed ‘at home’, the new approach is often felt to inferior (even if it is, in fact, better.) All parties need to learn to shed their natural unconscious bias and develop very high levels of objectivity when appraising the work done by new overseas colleagues.
- Effective communication: Communication is difficult enough within single-country organisations but is obviously much more complicated across cultures and language groups. Add the necessity for almost all communication to be driven through technology of one form or another and you have the perfect recipe for confusion and misunderstanding. Focus on effective communication is essential from the outset.
Global cultural differences challenge you in a way that is complex and often concealed. Our experience is that many organisations only become fully aware of cross-cultural challenges at the point when things are starting to go badly wrong and starting to impact negatively on a host of critical metrics.
We have helped dozens of organisations rise to the cultural challenges inherent in any cross-border outsourcing project and would love to talk to you about how we can help your organisation become more culturally fluent.
Latest version updated 16th November 2017