All cooperation’s between Scandinavian and Indian companies are dependent of two conflicting half’s. Two half’s that by nature are so different, that both need to try hard to gain a working totality.  Unless both parts realize the importance of true handshaking – there is no need even trying to succeed. (2002)

Written by: Trond Skundberg, July 2002
Published in Financial Express – India

The IT-resources of India are in many arias matching the Scandinavian needs, so why isn’t cooperation accelerating more?  Many Nordic companies have grabbed the possibilities in India, and made attempts on outsourcing projects or IT functions. At the same time Indian IT giants have stationed their sales representatives in the Nordic region, obviously to win the markets over-night. Did to many of them meet only in Paris, Zurich or one of the other European transit airports – on their way home?

Success is far from related to the financial muscles. The focus should be directed much more at cultural understanding, two-sided adjusting and the willingness to fight for true common understanding.

Many traps on the way to harmonious collaboration
After many years of close co-operation with the Indian IT industry; outsourcing projects, establishing off-shore development departments and founding an IT company in India – I have no problems admitting to have fallen in all kinds of traps on the way. 5 years of full time collaboration and repeated stays in India, have made me believe that everything is possible as long as both sides enters the arena with open minds.

I have seen failures at close range, and it seems like it’s really not trigged by the major challenges – more like the small but endless drops of confusion and frustration, that eventually will tear apart even the strongest patience. The major generator of the confusion is the feeling of never reaching the stage of having everything under control. Luckily I have also seen the great effect of constant work for understanding, adjusting and forming a joint platform -for successful long-term cooperation.

One billion VS. 5 million
India is the home of one billion. Strongly driven by religion and traditions. Comparatively, Norway’s population is less than 5 million self-willed inhabitants, living dangerously close to the north point of the globe. Actually, India has more IT professionals then the total population of Norway. Nevertheless, this northern tribe isn’t exactly known for admitting that others mindset and cultures are faultless. It’s no doubt that this fact’s alone opens up for the possibility of conflicting ways of handling a given challenge. My assertion is that it’s the sum of many small, often inexplicable differences that is the real enemy to lasting business relationship.

“So, what’s actually so different, India and Scandinavia compared?”
To break the silence, I once asked this to an Indian colleague visiting me in Norway for the first time. “Everything” he concluded, and the silent drive trough the streets of Oslo continued.

Either way, a Norwegian visiting India or an Indian visiting Norway, the first time is both a cultural and physical shock. No-one returns the same, and put into system the fresh gained ballast can play a crucial role on the way towards common goals.

A fast relocation from temperatures as cold as -30C to +45C is of course more than enough to loose ones head, but let’s put the obvious differences in climate and geographical location aside. There is still a large number of factors will affect any kind of business co-operation. This article can no more than touch this issues surface.

The essential understanding of needs
Norwegian companies tend to look upon its service providers as solution providers. They prefer to hand over a problem or a more or less thoroughly considered business concept – expecting to be provided with total solutions.

Most IT projects are about satisfying someone’s needs. Having good theoretical business understanding is one thing. Another thing is to claim full understanding of a specific business. What happens if the concept is about satisfying needs that the Indian analyst never had, nor understands anyone can have?

Needs are very much connected to regional conditions. The same conditions we have defined as extremely different.

Even if Indian IT companies are moving up the value chain, the industry historically has had its core business in low level design, coding and testing. Strengthening the weak point of requirement analysis and high level design would be one way to see the collaboration accelerate.

Work culture and hierarchy
The Norwegian work culture is more than anything else characterized by its informality and loose atmosphere. Especially in the largest business segment of small and medium sized companies, the hierarchy appears very flat compared to most Indian companies. The minimum salary is regulated, witch makes the span between the best and less paid small, compared to other countries. The incomes policy naturally affects the responsibility arias, and almost everyone is likely to participate in any odd jobs. Compared to India, most employees have a broadly range of tasks.

Decisions can be taken quickly and un-bureaucratic, since responsibility and decision-making is often pushed down the hierarchy.

Formalities are usually dropped and no one in the organisation is generally afraid of speaking up – promoting their ideas in any aria. Criticising the top management openly is not necessarily considered disrespectful.

In most sectors the trade unions has a considerable influence, constantly promoting the interests of the staff. Once an employment contract is established, the possibility for the employer to cancel it is very strict regulated.  Loosing the job unintentionally will qualify the majority for social security payments. Compared to many other countries the height of fall will be less dramatic.

Who is filling which position is far from necessarily based on age or educational background. Earlier success, ambitions and the managements general believe in an individual’s participation to bring the company forward, is often more important.

To directly reach an executive of a Norwegian company isn’t much of a problem. Provided you can quickly convince him or her that you are offering something useful, a business meeting can be agreed on instantly. Your own title or position is of less importance than in Indian business life. The personal chemistry and trust build in the first meeting will most likely be crucial.

Communication and transparency
The character of Norwegian communication is straightforward.  When needed, the word “no” is commonly used, without any misty wrapping. If an issue is open for discussion – this is clearly conveyed. When a decision is taken – the case is closed, and not to be considered on timeout -for collection of new arguments for the next days continuation. More than clearly defining both the start and stop point for any discussions or brainstorming is of highest importance.

Norwegian companies demand being provided with the right information at the right time – be it delays, technical problems or any other unforeseen issues. Waiting till the eleventh hour or maintaining tactful silence is very much unwanted. The messenger of bad news is highly appreciated, given the timing is right.

Everything is not always possible. In Norway it’s considered a quality to admit that something is not possible, rather than seeing the same becomes clear -after an unsuccessful attempt.

In distance collaboration it’s important to communicate simple and clear to create as little doubt as possible. Since one part will always be waiting for the other parts next step, its important to have systems in place to actually exaggerate the feedback and transparency. This to minimize the doubt about what is going on.

Taking unforeseen challenges personal, trying to cover it up by changing the priorities, will lead to nothing but trouble.

Even though it’s invaluable for day-to-day communication, modern technology can in no way compensate for the face-to-face meetings. Any collaboration will gain speed if the right persons are given the opportunity to develop a personal relationship.

Considerable differences – but no problems
Religion is representing one major difference, Norway and India compared. It’s obvious to suspect this might lead to challenges. I have until this date never experienced any problems caused by different religions, either in India or Norway.

When it comes to sex roles, the pattern in India and Norway is also very different. The equivalence between the sexes is more advanced in Norway.  The general impression of Indian female colleagues visiting Norway, are satisfaction with regards to the respect and consideration they have met and the percussion force they have experienced having.

Common understanding
To have a coincidence understanding of the same issue is essential, but not always easy to attain. To believe one understand each other can easily turn much worse than knowing for sure one don’t. If not cleared up immediately, the uncover-time of the misunderstanding is rarely favourable.

My experience is that any extra time spent on making sure the common understanding is attained- will pay off many times.

The “noise level” in Norwegian business life is at a comfortable level. Any message will more effectively reach the target if combined with personal confidence and a genuine interest in what exactly is the need – if any. My view is that most of the Indian IT companies looking at Scandinavia have failed in this. The understanding seems to be whoever can surpass the others by screaming highest about employee strength and certifications -will win.

The impression of everything being different is for sure a statement given under the first stage of shock Most differences can not – or need not be changed. Any problems based on human dissimilarity wipes out over time, as the understanding grows.

Consciousness around both large and small human, social and cultural differences is crucial. The solution is not for one part to change dramatically. The important is to focus on the small adjustments in both ends – and find out how to take positive advantage of the differences that will always be there.