Preventing culture clashes

By Reena Jana, InfoWorld |  Career

THE CHANCE OF potential culture clashes in American IT workplaces might increase
with the influx of highly skilled foreign workers, mainly in the technology field,
entering the United States on H1-B work visas.

According to figures released by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service,
the limit of 115,000 H1-B visas for the year 2000 has already been reached, and Senate
proposals exist that would call for an increase to 195,000 visas -- evidence that not
only the demand for, but the presence of, international IT workers in the United States
is growing rapidly. Thus, strategies for managing a culturally diverse pool of workers
are becoming more and more key.

"When I first came to America as a programmer to work on a short-term project 14
years ago, most of my co-workers in Denver had never seen or met an Indian person
before. They hadn't heard an accent like mine, and some people thought I was too
talkative, others thought I was remarkably quiet," recalls Jayakumar "Jakes"
Srinivasan, COO at zRep, a New York-based independent provider of quantifiable
reputation and skills scoring systems for the global online talent-exchange market.

"So on top of the programming challenge at hand, I had to figure out how to diffuse
difficulties in terms of cultural clashes," Srinivasan says. "People in Denver just
didn't know how to react to the fact that I am Indian, although our team was made up of
50 people, ranging from me to people from Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, and, of
course, the States.

"Despite what you might think, tech speak wasn't a common ground for us,"
Srinivasan explains. "Tech speak was more of a platform, though. It provided an arena
for us to show what we could do, so we could build trust and credibility, and therefore
work together well as a team, a culturally diverse team, in the traditional sense."

Dealing with such culture clashes is a challenge for many IT managers. Raymond
Spencer, CEO at Kanbay, a Rosemont, Ill.-based global information technology consulting
company with a staff made up of American, Indian, Chinese, and Australian workers,
suggests a combination of approaches to resolving and preventing cultural conflict.

At Kanbay, a manual on diversity management is made available on the company's
internal intranet site for easy, international access, Spencer explains. Managers and
employees are encouraged to engage in regular role-playing exercises during team
debriefing sessions.

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