Why Indians Lag Behind?

Why Indians Lag Behind?

(One Indian = 10 Japanese, 10 Indians = One Japanese)

Lack of teamwork and co-operation is one of the most serious problems affecting progress in all areas of India and wherever Indians work worldwide. The key problem in India is always implementation, not lack of policies. We have great policies and ideas about how to do things, but severely lacking teamwork.

When the Japanese came to work in India to develop the Maruti Suzuki car, a joke went around that one Indian was equal to 10 Japanese: Indians were very smart, capable and dedicated individuals. But 10 Indians were equal to 1 Japanese: Indians lacked team spirit and co-operation.

What makes matters even worse is our “crab” mentality – if someone is trying to climb higher and achieve more, the others just drag him down. The signal that the others send out is, ” I wouldn’t do it; I wouldn’t let you do it; and if by change you start succeeding, we will all gang up and make sure that you don’t get to do it.”

The question is: Where does this attitude come from, and how do we recognize and handle it?


Part of the problem is our cultural background. We’ve had feudal and a hierarchical social system in which whoever is senior supposedly knows best. This was fine in earlier times when knowledge and wisdom were passed on orally; but in modern society, there is no way that one person can know everything. Today, you may find that a young computer-trained person has more answers for an accounting problem than a senior accountant has. Until we understand how best to leverage this diversity of experience, we will not be able to create and fully utilize the right kind of teams.

Sam Pitroda: ” In my younger days in the US , I attended an executive seminar for Rockwell International, where about 25 senior company executives had congregated for a week for strategic discussion. In the evenings, we would break out into five different groups of five people each. In those group workshops, someone would delegate tasks, saying: ” You make coffee; you take notes; you are the chairman; and you clean the board”. The next day, there would be different duties for each group member. No one ever said, ” But I made coffee twice or I cleaned the board entire day”. I thought to myself, if this were happening in India , people would be saying, ” But I’m the senior secretary – why should I make the coffee and you be the chairman?” Hierarchy comes naturally to our minds.

What Derails a Team?

Group work requires a thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of individuals irrespective of their hierarchy. Because of our background, we often don’t learn how to exercise and accept leadership- to lead and to follow – simultaneously. Some gravitate toward exercising leadership, and others gravitate toward accepting the lead of others. But in true teamwork, everyone needs to do both.

Being a good team player implies respect for others, tolerance of different points of view and willingness to give. The ability to resolve conflicts without either egotism or sycophancy is a very important aspect of being a team player: You have to agree to disagree. I find that people in India somehow tend to focus on achieving total agreement, which is almost always impossible. So before work begins people want everyone to agree on everything instead they should say OK. This is what we agree on, so let’s start working on this. What we don’t agree on, we will resolve as we go along”. For things to move forward, it’s important to work on the agreed-upon aspects and not get bogged down in the areas of disagreement. Yet another snake that kills teamwork is people’s political agendas. You’ve got to be open, clear and honest to be a good team player. Most people though, have a hidden agenda – they say something but mean the exact opposite. I call it “split-level consciousness”. To say and mean the same thing is a very critical part of a good work ethic.


When Sam was working in C-DOT (400 employee size company), If someone had not been doing well, Sam used to tell the person directly to his face in a general meeting. The employees said that was insulting and they should be pulled aside individually to be told of the inefficiency. But in today’s world, you cannot afford to do that every time. Besides, Sam figured that criticizing someone in a meeting was for the benefit of all present, and everyone could learn from that individual’s mistakes. It was then that Sam learned how Indians do not differentiate between criticizing an idea and criticizing an individual.

So in a group, if you tell someone that his idea is no good, he automatically takes it personally and assumes that you are criticizing him. No one can have a good idea everyday on every issue. If you disagree with my idea, that does not mean that you have found fault with me as a person. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to criticize the boss – but this concept is not a part of the Indian System. So from time to time, it is important for an organization’s Chief Executive to get a report on the psychological health of the firm. How do people in the team feel? Are they stable? Confident? Secure? Comfortable? These are the key elements of a team’s success. For a boss to be comfortable accepting criticism from subordinates, he must feel good about himself. Self-esteem is a key prerequisite to such a system being successful.


Another serious problem facing India is the dichotomy and difference in respectability between physical and mental workers, which seriously affects team performance.

Mr. Sam had a driver named Ram, who he thought was one of the best drivers in the world. He used to open the door for him whenever he entered or exited the car. Right in the first few days Sam told him ” Ram bhai, you are not going to open the door for me. You can do that If I lose my hands”. Ram almost started crying. He said, ” Sir, what are you saying? This is my job!” Sam told him that I didn’t want to treat him like a mere driver. He had to become a team player. Sam told him that whenever he was not driving, he should come into office and help out with office work – make copies, file papers, send faxes, answer phone call or simply read – rather than sit in the car and wait for me to show up.

Diversifying tasks increases workers’ self-esteem and motivation and makes them team players. Now, even If Sam calls him for work in the middle of the night, he is ready – because Sam respects him for what he does. Team Interactions unfortunately, when good teams do get created, they almost invariably fall apart. In our system today it is very difficult to build teams because nobody wants to be seen playing second fiddle. It is very hard in India to find good losers. Well, you win some and you lose some. If you lose some, you should move on! You don’t need to spend all your time and energy of different cultural backgrounds, religions, ethnicities and caste groups – a fertile ground of diversity in the workplace. We should actually be experts in working with diversity. But it can only happen when we get rid of personal, caste and community interests.

There could be a 40-year-old CEO with a 55-year-old VP. It has nothing to do with age; capability and expertise are what counts. But you don’t yet see these attitudes taking hold in India . Managers in the US corporate environment who work with Indians – and in fact, with Asians in general – need to recognize that these individuals have a tendency to feel that they are not getting recognition or are not being respected. It must be realized that these individuals have lower self-esteem to begin with and therefore have to be pampered and encouraged a little more because they need it. This makes them feel better and work better. No Substitute for Teamwork. Teamwork is key to corporate and national governance, and to get anything done.

The fundamental Issues are respect for others, openness, honesty, communication, willingness to disagree, resolution of conflict, and recognition that the larger goal of the team as a whole rumps Individual or personal agendas.

Don’t be afraid of pressure.

Remember that Pressure is what turns a lump of coal into a diamond.

Source: Written by Sam Pitroda, Chairman & CEO of World Tel 

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