Associate Professor of Business Administration
Tsedal Neeley (@tsedal) is an associate professor in the Organizational Behavior unit at the Harvard Business School. She has taught in both the MBA (LEAD and Leading Teams in a Global Economy) and in various executive education programs such as Global Strategic Management. She currently teaches in the Executive Education offering “Program for Leadership Development.” Professor Neeley has received the HBS Charles M. Williams award for outstanding teaching in Executive Education.
Professor Neeley's research focuses on the challenges that global collaborators face when attempting to coordinate work across national and linguistic boundaries, with special emphasis in the impact of language, power, status, and emotions on social dynamics. In particular, she examines the effects of internationalizing firms' policies requiring employees of diverse skill-set to adopt English as their common business language, or lingua franca. In addition to lingua franca adoption behaviors, she studies the influence of culture in heterogeneous work environments. Professor Neeley publishes her work in leading scholarly and practitioner-oriented outlets such as Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Management Science, Journal of International Business, and Harvard Business Review. Her research has been covered in many media outlets such as CNN, Financial Times, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist.
Before her academic career, Professor Neeley spent ten years in industry working for companies like Lucent Technologies and The Forum Corporation in various capacities including strategies for global customer experience, 360 degree performance software management systems, sales force/sales management development, and business flow analysis for telecommunication infrastructures. With extensive international experience, Professor Neeley is fluent in four languages.
Professor Neeley received her Ph.D. from Stanford University's Department of Management Science and Engineering specializing in organizational studies. Professor Neeley was a Stanford University School of Engineering Lieberman award recipient for excellence in teaching and research as well as the Stanford Distinguished Alumni Scholar.
Global Teams That Work
To succeed in the global economy today, more and more companies are relying on a geographically dispersed workforce. They build teams that offer the best functional expertise from around the world, combined with deep, local knowledge of the most promising markets. They draw on the benefits of international diversity, bringing together people from many cultures with varied work experiences and different perspectives on strategic and organizational challenges. All this helps multinational companies compete in the current business environment.
But managers who actually lead global teams are up against stiff challenges. Creating successful work groups is hard enough when everyone is local and people share the same office space. But when team members come from different countries and functional backgrounds and are working in different locations, communication can rapidly deteriorate, misunderstanding can ensue, and cooperation can degenerate into distrust.
The ‘Promotion’ That Makes You Feel Bad
HBS Working Knowledge Article from July 27, 2015
Receiving an unexpected professional status bump doesn't always feel good, especially if it wasn't really earned. Companies need to be aware of potential problems with unearned status gain, and be ready with solutions, says Tsedal Neeley.
Getting Cross-Cultural Teamwork Right
Harvard Business Review Blog from September 10, 2014
People struggle with global teamwork, even though it's essential to success in multinational firms. Despite their efforts to nimbly manage differences in time zones, cultures, and languages, cross-border collaborators often fail to reach shared understanding or common ground. They face conflicting group norms, practices, and expectations — all of which can cause severe fracturing along cultural lines.
So how do you negotiate those differences and discover common ground? Through extensive research on global organizations and teams, I've found that learning, understanding, and teaching are three critical factors — on both sides.
What’s Your Language Strategy?
Language pervades every aspect of organizational life. It touches everything. Yet remarkably, leaders of global organizations, whose employees speak a multitude of languages, often pay too little attention to it in their approach to talent management. As we have observed in countless organizations, unrestricted multilingualism creates inefficiency in even the most dedicated and talented workforces. It can lead to friction in cross-border interactions, lost sales, and a host of other serious problems that may jeopardize competitiveness (see also “Global Business Speaks English,” by Tsedal Neeley, HBR May 2012). Developing a comprehensive strategy for managing language can help transform that vulnerability into a source of competitive advantage.
Global Business Speaks English
Ready or not, English is now the global language of business. More and more multinational companies are mandating English as the common corporate language—Airbus, Daimler-Chrysler, Fast Retailing, Nokia, Renault, Samsung, SAP, Technicolor, and Microsoft in Beijing, to name a few—in an attempt to facilitate communication and performance across geographically diverse functions and business endeavors.
Language Wars Divide Global Companies
An increasing number of global firms adopt a primary language for business operations—usually English. The problem: The practice can surface dormant hostilities around culture and geography. Tsedal Neeley discusses her research in this story from HBS Working Knowledge.
Radical Language Strategy Case
Tip of the Iceberg Simulation on global collaboration
As Professor Tsedal Neeley explains, Tip of the Iceberg simulates the communication dynamics that occur during global collaborations in which diverse work teams interact in English—the mandated business language. Through a series of online communication game sessions, student teams (students are assigned roles as native English speakers and non-native speakers) work together to solve problems against the clock, as language and communication challenges impact their performance.
Firsthand experience in global collaboration
For a manager to assume that they can conduct all of their global work without any face-to-face contact is a mistake. In this leadership insight, Professor Neeley discusses how traveling to meet colleagues in other countries not only gives you direct knowledge of what they're doing, but also a better understanding of how they perceive you.
Leaders' Blindspots Undermine Their Global Language Policies
The challenges of companies mandating English as the global language and the SCARF model
It's Not Nagging: Why Persistent, Redundant Communication Works
CEOs of global companies increasingly mandate that their employees learn English. The problem: these workers can experience a loss of status and believe they aren't as effective in their learned language, says Assistant Professor Tsedal Neeley.