The Israeli–Indian Intercultural Advantage
Cultural diversity can sabotage success if discounted and turned into strength if managed correctly
It is fairly evident that interactions between Indians and Israelis are characterized by some fundamental communication and attitudinal differences that can affect workplace collaboration. At the same time, the cultures also have some striking similarities (for instance, they share a very similar appreciation for good relationship, a very similar cultural emphasis good hospitality as a core value, and have a surprisingly similar approach to teamwork). These, if managed carefully, can be used to the advantage of those needing to work across the Israel/India interface.
Similarities, however, can also be misleading, since similar behaviors tend to create the illusion that the underlying motives and values are also alike (when in fact they are often very far apart), resulting in a tendency to overlook critical differences. Failure to recognize or address fundamental differences, whether in new or existing teams, inevitably results in miscommunication, conflict, disintegration of trust, hostility, poor results, lost opportunities and general diminished capacity to reach set goals. Building on the cultural similarities and developing cross-cultural intelligence, then, is not only crucial to overall success, but requires careful attention.
Indian communication style tends to be much less direct (if not altogether indirect) - especially when compared with the notoriously blunt and direct communication style of Israelis.
When Indians and Israelis work together these differences are easily graspable in principle, but it is unlikely, for instance, that a response like “yes, this will be ready next week” will ever translate in the mind of an Israeli (unless she has been forewarned) to what her Indian colleague might actually mean – a simple “no”. If anything, the Israeli is likely to be irritated the following week, once what she took to be a promise turns out to be something else (thereby damaging her ability to trust his coworker in future).
Unless briefed, it will take an Israeli a very long time to realize that “I’m working very hard on this” – which to Israelis means devoting at least 90% of one’s time to a task – could actually mean “I’m thinking about it / it’s on my desk / I will get to it in the future”. If and when the Israeli does realize this to be the case, he will have probably developed the sort of hostility and lack of trust that tends that sabotage collaborative efficiency. Nor is the Israeli likely to realize, unless explicitly told, that when his Indian coworker says “no problem”, there is usually a big problem in the relationship – and that he is expected to put more effort into repairing it.
The same goes for an Indian faced with “this will not work” by an Israeli colleague. Chances are, he’ll be deeply offended, not realizing that this signifies not for the end of the discussion – but its very beginning; he is expected to push back and stand his ground, not withdraw from the conversation altogether.
Authority & Hierarchy
Indians tend to submit to authority and accept hierarchy. Israelis who come from a much more egalitarian social structure, have an overwhelming tendency to question authority and challenge hierarchy.
In practical terms, this means a very different approach to Leadership and Management: Israeli managers expect independence and self-reliance; initiative and input; feedback and general buy-in from their employees. Israeli employees tend to be, in turn, independent, proactive and self-reliant, always on the lookout for challenges and difficulties upon being assigned with a task.
Indian employees on the other hand, very respectful of authority, often await guidance and detailed instructions from management before acting, not expecting to be part of the decision making process – but only to be told what needs to be done and how. Put Israeli managers in charge of an Indian team without first creating the necessary cross-cultural intelligence for effective communication, and the lack of involvement in decision-making displayed by the Indians, though actually stemming from respect, is likely to be viewed by Israeli Managers as a lack of initiative, lack of interest – or worse, lack in ability and technical skills, all while the Indian team might feel frustrated by the lack of guidance from management.
Put Indian managers in charge of a team of Israelis – a similar problem will emerge; Indian managers are likely to feel undermined and disrespected, while the Israelis will feel as if someone is underestimating their intelligence whenever instructions are too detailed and force them, god forbid, to operate within the confines of ‘the box’.
Minding the Gap
What We Do: In recent years, IAIA has been developing a niche focus on the Israel/India interface, adjusting its Consulting, Coaching, Training and Facilitation expertise to this unique cultural interface. With highly interactive, hand-on approach, IAIA customizes its training programs to address the mission-critical gaps specific to organizations and teams working across the Israel/India interface, providing them with necessary cross-cultural insights and tools to work together effectively.
Approach & Methodology: IAIA Programs examine key differences in attitudes towards communication, hierarchy, conflict management, problem solving, decision-making, and more – and contextualize of the different business cultures to create an understanding of the underlying core value, norms and attitudes that drive workplace behaviors. During training, culture and context specific real life/work scenarios are used, bringing to light the cultural gaps from which miscommunications; frustration, and lack of trust emerge. The scenarios are then analyzed, solutions identified, and new ways of bridging the gaps practiced, based on newly gained insights in a process that facilitates an open dialogue on a long term basis.
Working Effectively With Israelis
Tailored for Indian audiences:
IAIA offers self-contained Training Programs on Working Effectively With Israelis, as learning to communicate effectively with Israelis – a culture with ‘maximum freedom, minimum restraint’ approach to business and a very distinct communication style – often becomes critical to the success of any business working with this interface.
Designed in collaboration with Indian-Culture Experts and with the uniquely Indian learning style as a guiding principle, these programs’ exercises, activities and contents are carefully adapted as a means of maximizing the learning process of Indian audiences.
What We’ve Done:
IAIA’s involvement with India began in late 2011 when it was approached by a Global 100 Company who had acquired a Dutch start-up with several global R&D sites – including Bangalore India – where IAIA was invited to run a carefully customized (culture and context specific) Global Skills Workshop for teams of Indian engineers who had been managed remotely by team leaders in the Netherlands 3 years prior to the acquisition, and were now about to begin close cross-site working relations with the U.S., and possibly Israel.
As the program’s results exceeded expectation, IAIA was soon requested to design and facilitate other cross-cultural skills programs for the Bangalore site – including a workshop for the Dutch/Indian interface to enable more effective working relations between the engineers and their Dutch counterparts. This in turn, led to an influx of Israeli businesses with Indian interface seeking IAIA’s expertise on working effectively with Indians, resulting in the development of a niche focus on the Israel/India interface.