Managing teams across borders creates unique challenges for the Long-Distance Leader.

With technology is making it easier to do business, companies looking for growth or cost savings are expanding internationally at increasing frequency.  In fact, the number of employees on international assignments has grown as part of the continuing trend toward globalization. This is increasing the number of remote teams facing the challenge of working across borders. And of course, with people working across borders, leaders are needed to manage those teams.

Managing remotely is hard enough, but there are extra challenges if your team or manager is in another part of the world.  Here are some practical tips to help ensure success:

The Personal Touch

  • Even with all of the available technology, nothing replaces in-person human contact, so try to find an opportunity to meet with your manager or team, and build in time for relationship building.  In many cultures, “breaking bread” together (sharing a meal) is an important part of the getting-to-know- you experience.   Even one in-person meeting can change all future interactions for the better.
  • Video calls have come a long way and are much more effective than phone alone.  Take advantage of technology to help minimize the chasm between you.


  • I’m terrible at foreign languages, but I try to learn a few words to be polite and show I care.  A simple Bonjour or Shalom can go a long way.  Try Duolingo or one of the other language apps to learn a foreign language.  If you just need a quick translation, the translation apps have come a long way, too.
  • Remember that when you’re speaking in English, slow down! Especially if you are on the phone, it’s hard to follow a discussion even when everyone speaks the same language. Be sure to engage in two-way dialogue so everyone understands what was said and follow up with meeting notes confirming the messages.   

Do Your Homework

  • You can avoid committing a faux pas by learning about the culture of your colleague.  For example, in some cultures, it is impolite to jump right into business without sufficient small talk. In others, decision-making will be a more involved process, where thoroughness is valued over speed. There are many books and sources you find to help with this.  Two of my favorites are French or Foe by Polly Pratt and Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands, by Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway.
  • While it is okay to have some language barriers, be sure to learn how to spell and pronounce your co-worker’s name.  It’s permissable to ask for help in how to say someone’s name properly, but then be sure to get it right.
  • Similarly, be careful about always talking in dollars, instead recognizing other currencies. If working with multi-country financials or analyses, it is essential to know which currency you are dealing in, and if necessary, what exchange rates were used.

Time Zone Hacks

  • Be sensitive to time zone differences. Schedule meetings and calls at a mutually convenient time. If this isn’t possible, then take turns so your colleague or subordinate isn’t  always the one inconvenienced by having to get up early or stay up late.
  • Simple things like saying “hello” instead of “good morning” when it is evening to the other person shows you are mindful of differences.
  • When sending meeting invites, include all the relevant time zones and be specific (e.g., 7 a.m. NY time, 1 p.m. (13:00) Paris time).

When is that meeting?

  • Just as you would not want your boss scheduling a meeting on July 4th, you shouldn’t schedule a meeting on a holiday in their country. 
  • While American’s are likely to work over lunch, in some countries, a lunch break is an important cultural element.  Expecting your subordinate to work over lunch could be considered rude, or worse, against country regulations. 
  • Beware of date confusion. For example, when writing out a date, 5/9/19 could either be May 9 or September 5. Avoid potential misunderstandings by writing out the full date: May 9, 2019.

About the author

Karyn B. Schoenbart is the Chief Executive Officer of The NPD Group. For more ideas on working and managing internationally, check out her best-selling book, Mom.B.A.: Essential Advice from One Generation to the Next.

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