What the Dutch can learn from the Indians, and vice versa.

I spent the last week in Bangalore, India, on invitation of NXP Semiconductors and Tata Consultancy, training 80 IT back-office professionals in multicultural cooperation. It was a wonderful experience, discussing the many different aspects of culture that can influence the cooperation between two companies. Each company with their own company culture and IT-specific culture, there was a rich source of diversity to learn from. And as always in this part of the world, what struck me most was the enthusiasm, warmth, hospitality, professionalism and willingness to learn of all participants. Multiple days, when I was already one hour over schedule to finish, they asked still to work on the materials that I had skipped. Extending the session to get more learning was no problem at all: “We are flexible!” And the final exam we did end of the day (a quiz) was made with a minimum of mistakes, proving that they swallowed every little detail I had talked about during the day.

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I keep learning new things every time as well. The first exercise in the program, ‘Bridging the Culture Gap’, asks participants to reflect on the Dutch and the Indian cultures, and then to list the most important things the Dutch can learn from the Indians (if they want to), and vice versa (if they get the chance).

A few things were predictable. The Dutch can learn hospitality, customer-orientation and flexibility from the Indians. Especially flexibility was the overall theme, contrasting the methodological and process-oriented approach of most Dutch IT-consultants and the adaptable, flexible and react-to-what-is-there approach of their Indian counterparts. The Indians on the other hand can learn to work more structured and methodological, communicate more directly (low-context) and give more realistic rather than optimistic planning updates.

Also, a few surprises came up. The Dutch apparently are seen as very health-conscious and environment-conscious, and the Indians say they can learn from this. Although attention for health and fitness is increasing here for sure, I never realized that other cultures see us as well-ahead in this area. The Indians also say they can learn work-life balance from the Dutch: although the service-mentality and customer-focus drives Indians to work very hard and respond to an issue as fast as they can, most back-office workers indicated that the work-life balance is not in the right position in India.

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What the Dutch can learn in their turn – according to the Indians – is to be more respectful, and treat Indian professionals as equals. The Dutch are not perceived as such, when they insist that their processes and systems are used, and the Indian way-of-working is pushed aside. Certainly the Dutch should learn to be more adaptable and flexible: they are praised for their processes and standards, but also are perceived as too strict on following these. Funny, we don’t see ourselves as such, we say the Germans are like that and we are not. Culture is relative. Finally, the Indians added that it would be good for the Dutch to be more spiritual, finding peace with a deeper meaning in life and work, like the Indians do. I was fascinated!

shutterstock_91955735 What a fun week this was. Although participants learned a lot and the sessions had good value for the company and their 80 people, there was also a lot of fun and laughter. Not in the last place when the Indians added that the real thing the Dutch can learn from them is… to play cricket.

Honestly, I did not look forward to the week, with travel, jet lags, and 5 times the same training for 5 different groups. Looking back, however, I had a really wonderful time. For me, I fell in love with the India spirit, drive to learn and the wonderful people. When on top of that I know the training had incredible value to these 80 people and to their company, I am happy, proud and satisfied. Looking forward to the next trip to Bangalore!

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