Saturday, February 03, 2007

Indians and teamwork

Why have we succeeded in software and pharma research, [Murugappa group's ex-Chairman MV Subbiah] asks, and gives the answer: Because in both areas, people can work on their own, figuring out algorithms or molecular structures. The negative conclusion: Indians don't work well in teams.

That's from T.N. Ninan, editor of Business Standard.

There's a lot of management 'wisdom' from Subbiah in Ninan's article, but this one about Indians' general inability to work well in teams hit me immediately. Like most other management 'wisdom', this one is also an over-generalization, but I get the feeling that it has some (and only some!) truth in it. This is because, just the other day, an entrepreneur friend complained to me quite bitterly about the lack of team spirit among the young, smart engineers in his very young start-up. "While everyone agrees to the team's plan in meetings," he said, "each person then goes out and starts doodling on other, fancier things that will show off his/her superior technical prowess." In the process, some of the really important work -- such as the inevitable last minute polishing up that needs to be done before the product is shipped -- suffers, and the team ends up facing missed deadlines and sorry consequences.

While my friend sympathizes with the engineers' inner need to show off their talents, he is certainly miffed at their lack of commitment to the team and its decisions. This kind of unprofessional conduct hurts the team's goals, and he cited it as the most important challenge for him in his entrepreneurial career. And remember, my friend's company develops software -- a field in which, Subbiah says, "people can work on their own, figuring out algorithms"!