Gurcharan Das, in his book India Unbound, wrote about teamwork dynamics in the Indian business and social scenario. He attributed the weak levels of teamwork in India to a debilitating caste system. The caste system prohibits mingling, working and teaming with people of other classes and asks people to remain confined to their community to maintain their pride and dignity. Indian people, as a result of centuries of adherence to the caste system, are not culturally programmed to be great team players. Similar demarcations are visible to this day, where right from childhood, a child is asked to stick to his ‘society-mandated’ friends. Another example could be cricket. The game that our country is best at, is an individual-driven game. It is unlike more teamwork-intensive games like football or hockey, where each player is constantly creating opportunities for others. I am not saying that cricket doesn’t need teamwork at all, but in cricket, to win a game, you need stellar performances from individuals. We are a divided nation, no matter how much we romanticize the notion of “unity in diversity”. Perhaps, the entire notion of unity is a myth in our country, the lack of which also affects, among other things, workplace productivity.
On a recent assignment in Dubai, I realized that the general workforce of Dubai consisted of over 85% foreigners and the remaining 15% citizens of UAE. Moreover, the city has foreign workers from over 100 countries! On hearing this, I instantly felt that the Indian ‘teamwork’ problem just got a lot more complicated here. Apart from religion, caste and socio-economic differences, the people also have to deal with the larger divide of nationalities. My hypothesis is that if caste could complicate things for India, nationalities have the potential to spell a nightmare for managers. How deep is the divide and how it impacts workplaces is still to be explored by me. I really hope to study this problem in greater details in the coming months, when I interact with people there a little more.