Can you Lead in India?
A Swedish carmaker opened an assembly plant in Pune, India. Adrian, who has been a highly successful manager in Sweden, was sent to India to set up and lead a team of engineers. He planned to recreate the team culture and working practices that had yielded brilliant results and motivated the whole team in Sweden. He believed in creating and enabling an atmosphere for his team where everyone puts forward their ideas and issues, and together they agree on a way forward for the whole team. He would consult with all layers of his team, above and below, to make sure everyone had their say before decisions concerning them were made. He never felt the need to follow up or chase his team, as once the decision was made, everyone went on with their tasks until they needed some help, or it was completed. If there was an issue, he expected the team members to show up at his door and ask for his help. This way of working was both accepted and expected by Adrian and his team in Sweden without the need to ever talk about it.
Before Adrian travelled to Pune, India, he used the help of his Indian colleagues to select his team members. He would be directly leading a team of 12 engineers. On his first day in the plant, Adrian set up a team meeting with his new team. He had years of experience setting up and managing new teams. After the initial introductions around the table and sharing some of his experiences from Sweden, Adrian went straight to business, asking the team to share their ideas on how they would like him to run the team and share their best practices. The team was quiet and looked at each other. Thinking maybe they did not understand the question, he repeated himself but with the same result. He tried to probe further by asking individuals, but most of the responses he received were more questions than suggestions. He was taken back by this, feeling that maybe they were not as competent as he had expected.
Over the coming weeks, Adrian was getting surprised every day; some surprises he liked, others he did not. He understood that team meetings were very quiet, and he had to do most of the talking. This improved after a few weeks, but still, the communication wasn’t fluid enough for him. He did not like that every time he tried to ask for feedback and analyse further into ongoing issues during team meetings, the concerned individuals were quiet and even uncomfortable. He was happy that all his team members were always positive about taking over a new task, and everyone helped each other during projects. But he had some experiences where the assigned task was not completed on time, and he was not told about the potential delay until the deadline was around the corner. His team worked hard, and it was common for them to spend time at work beyond the usual working hours.
During one project, his team was working with the Swedish design team to produce and test a new car part. This project was of a high strategic value to the company. Adrian was on two days' holiday. During his absence, the Swedish team asked the team in Pune to make minor adjustments to the design and re-create the product. When he came back, he found his inbox full of escalation emails from the Swedish team. They were not happy that the Indian team did not deliver any work, even though they acknowledged the need for it during their meeting. Adrian set up an emergency team meeting and condemned his whole team for being unprofessional and letting everyone down. The whole team felt disappointed as they did not understand what the issue was. They had merely waited for Adrian to take the important decision. The senior management were also not happy with the outcome of the project and started doubting Adrian’s value in leading the team in India.
After 6 months into his role, Adrian decided to move back to Sweden. He was left questioning his leadership and management style that had worked so well for years, but he just could not replicate the results in India.