New Delhi: For Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of auto components maker Robert Bosch GmbH, getting its employees from different cultures to work together proved more difficult than cracking a bug that infected a Japanese client’s information technology system.

Seamless integration: Employees from different countries and cultural backgrounds at Tamco Switchgear in Malaysia, which has been acquired by Larsen and Toubro, work together to achieve common business goals.

Its customer relationship, sales and marketing teams were from Germany, while the technical team was from India. Misunderstandings reached a point where they could not do their job.

The company solved the problem by starting a team-building exercise that focused on creating a common ground, increasing interaction beyond “mails reporting bugs" and sensitizing employees about different working styles.

Globalization has brought with it a need for multinational companies to manage diversity to function well in an inter-cultural environment. Which is why “we took a hard look at our value chain", says T.K. Sathyanarayana, head of human resources at Robert Bosch’s India arm.

And if the ideas presented by 164 companies at the 34th National Competition for Young Managers — organized by the All India Management Association, or Aima — are any indication, many others are taking diversity seriously.

Diversity management — which seeks to build teams with different backgrounds, traits and age groups, and help them function as a cohesive unit — is coming of age in India, says Anil Sachdev, founder and chief executive at Grow Talent Co. Ltd, a New Delhi-based human resource consultancy, who steered the recently concluded competition.

“It is being interpreted and translated as not just a way of showing respect towards individual differences or ensuring there is no racial or gender-based discrimination," Sachdev says, “but by going beyond that — specifically as being a valuable contributor to innovation and productivity."

At Larsen and Toubro Ltd, the country’s biggest engineering firm, psychological diversity in employees — different attitudes, working styles and competencies—have been woven into the workflow to create a more “humane" workplace.

The engineering firm’s winning pitch at the competition was centred around a 360-degree view of supplier, customer, investor, stakeholder and owner diversity across businesses ranging from construction and manufacturing to financial services and information technology.

According to an official spokesperson with Larsen and Toubro, psychological diversity was managed by offering staffers the freedom to choose work locations, rotating jobs frequently and delinking salary hikes from promotions.

“Usually the psychological aspect is not actively investigated during recruitment. It comes into play after the person has joined," says Sachdev, citing the example of the Meredith Belbin team-building model used by Johnson and Johnson India Ltd and the Mahindra group.

In the Meredith Belbin model, teams comprise “idea generators" (enthusiastic people with creative ideas) and “finishers" (dependable when it comes to closing projects). The model allows companies to create space for both leaders and facilitators.

“Research undertaken by most participating teams in the competition highlighted the finding that diversely grouped teams which incorporated employees from different countries of origin had better results than those that clubbed, say, only Asians or Europeans," says Kamal Singh, a director at Aima.

Binoculars — an India-specific diversity initiative of Robert Bosch — provides information on Indian culture to expatriates while equipping Indians on overseas assignments with some handy tips.

There were others who said a statutory requirement might ensure that companies focused more on diversity management programmes.

Pravin Kumar, an area manager at state-owned oil marketer Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd, proposed that companies should be required to clock a certain number of diversity credits — which they could earn themselves or purchase from others.

The message that came through in the competition was that unless companies learned how to deal with the uniqueness of individuals, and leveraged each of these differences, the benefits of working in a stimulating environment would be compromised in more ways than one.

Gains from diversity programmes

# Image building and goodwill

# Attract and retain a talented and diverse workforce

# Earn tax exemptions and find it easier to obtain licences

# Step up a company’s chances in the case of merger or acquisition