If too many cooks can spoil the broth, then cooks from different cultures should be a disaster in the kitchen. Differences between cultures are often cited as the reason why many companies find that their international cooperation ventures end up looking like fallen soufflés. However, this is not the case with Citec, who, with their customers, have successfully created a recipe for a cross-cultural way of working.
Hardly any other part of the world has the same diversity as India. In the world’s seventh largest country, fields can be green on one side of a road and completely dry on the other. There might be a hard-core business centre full of busy engineers in one building, and a shantytown right next to it. That is one example to explain why India is often described as a land of contrasts with an unmatched pluralistic culture.
Although diversity is a strength, in business, cultural differences can pose challenges.
“People from different cultures naturally have different ways of working and thinking. Too often, there is so-called tacit knowledge, and people assume to excess. For example, the logic of communication is different in the Nordic countries and India, which requires communication efforts from all,” explains Citec’s Director of Product Engineering in Europe, Mikko Juopperi.
Challenges posed by distance between team members can be tackled with a local presence and open communication.
Citec has a long history of cooperating with Cargotec, a Finnish manufacturer of cargo handling machines and equipment. In the summer of 2014, Citec took over a part of Cargotec’s engineering operations in India. For five years now, Cargotec has been collaborating between Europe and Citec’s Pune office in India.
“When we started the cooperation with Cargotec, we agreed that we needed a representative at their premises. We were both aware of the problems which may occur when operating in different locations and have learned that these challenges can be tackled with a local presence and open communication. That is why Citecians are integrated full-time into Cargotec’s work community,” Juopperi says.
Local coordinator as a link between different cultures
When Kalmar, part of Cargotec, is about to start a new project, the first person they contact is Patrik Ektoft – Citec’s Local Coordinator who works in Kalmar’s Innovation Centre in Ljungby, Sweden. The position is unusual at Citec, as a Local Coordinator works with only one customer and is tasked with ensuring seamless cooperation between the customer and Citec.
“Kalmar is my only customer, and my job is to take care of all customer contacts and projects, and to forward them to my Citec colleagues who manage the project execution in Pune. I make sure that everyone has all the information needed to proceed with the project,” explains Ektoft, Project Engineer in Energy, Process & Manufacturing, when describing his job.
The local coordinator ensures seamless cooperation between the project team in different locations.
Collaboration between Citec and Kalmar results in, for example, forklift trucks to ports, distribution centres and heavy industry. Photo: Cargotec/Kalmar.
Although there are almost 8,000 kilometres between Ljungby and Pune, the team members interact actively on a daily basis. Because of the long distances, Citec has invested a lot in team work and interaction.
“At the heart of working, cooperation is an understanding within the team and with the customer. We intentionally invest in team building and understanding the cultural aspects,” says Ektoft.
“I have worked with colleagues in India for a long time already, so the role of a link between different cultures is nothing new to me. Although we do international business, it is a great advantage that we can also discuss things in our native language in our everyday work in Ljungby. When everyone speaks Swedish, there is more small-talk in Kalmar’s meetings, and we get much more detailed information from them. Alternatively, if a new idea comes up during a coffee break, for example, I can grab it directly to our to-do list. For a person from a different culture speaking a different language, this would be a bit more difficult,” Ektoft explains.
A game-changing setup
Several classical studies (such as Harris & Sherblom 1999 or Hoover 2002, etc.) have shown that a team is more efficient and productive than a group of individuals. As the human interface has a magical power of connecting people, Citecians from India visit Kalmar in Sweden almost every third month, so that they can discuss the ongoing projects face-to-face.
“When working closely, people are more committed to their team and the project they are working on. It is worth mentioning that the quality of the work also improves, and knowledge spreads between people. In India, there is a highly educated workforce with strong know-how, but it is important to sometimes meet the people you work with and experience the product you are designing in order to be successful in your work,” notes Pravin Patil, Head of Mobile Equipment, EDC.
A team is more efficient and productive than a group of individuals.
Citec is not alone with their thoughts. Kalmar also emphasises the importance of active and open interaction within the organisation and with its stakeholders. Kalmar chooses partners according to their ability to help the company in achieving their strategic goals. Kalmar’s Senior Manager for Forklift Trucks, Magnus Andersson, is pleased with the work Citec has done in Pune and believes that it is all thanks to their shared mindset.
“Together with Citec, we have found the best way to cooperate between Europe and India – and it is a cultural cocktail. Our outsourced office in Pune offers us important resources and expertise, which cost-effectively enhances our offering. As cooperation and interaction are the success factors of today, we will involve local coordination even more in our projects in the future. In that way, we can find new opportunities for further improving our collaboration,” Andersson sums up.
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Head of Mobile Equipment, EDC
Director of Product Engineering, Europe