Tsedal Neeley

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 ScienceManagement ScienceJournal 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.

Journal Articles

  1. Unearned Status Gain: Evidence from a Global Language Mandate

    Tsedal Neeley and Tracy Dumas

    Theories of status rarely address unearned status gain—an unexpected and unsolicited increase in relative standing, prestige, or worth, attained not through individual effort or achievement, but from a shift in organizationally valued characteristics. We build theory about unearned status gain drawing from a qualitative study of 90 U.S.–based employees of a Japanese organization following a company-wide English language mandate. These native English-speaking employees believed that the mandate elevated their worth in the organization, a status gain they attributed to chance, hence deeming it unearned. They also reported a heightened sense of belonging, optimism about career advancement, and access to expanded networks. Yet among those who interacted regularly with Japanese counterparts, narratives also revealed discomfort, which manifested in at least two ways. These informants engaged in “status rationalization,” emphasizing the benefits Japanese employees might obtain by learning English, and predicated on whether the change was temporary or durable, a process we call “status stability appraisal.” The fact that these narratives were present only among those working closely with Japanese employees highlights intergroup contact as a factor in shaping the unearned status gain experience. Supplemental analysis of data gathered from 66 Japanese employees provided the broader organizational context and the nonnative speakers’ perspective of the language shift. These findings expand our overall understanding of status dynamics in organizations and show how status gains can yield both positive and negative outcomes.

    Keywords: Status and Position; Equality and Inequality; Interpersonal Communication; Organizations; Japan; United States;


    Neeley, Tsedal, and Tracy Dumas. "Unearned Status Gain: Evidence from a Global Language Mandate." Academy of Management Journal 59, no. 1 (February 2016): 14–43. View Details
  2. Global Teams That Work

    Tsedal Neeley

    Many companies today rely on employees around the world, leveraging their diversity and local expertise to gain a competitive edge. However, geographically dispersed teams face a big challenge: physical separation and cultural differences can create social distance, or a lack of emotional connection, that leads to misunderstandings and mistrust. To help global team leaders manage effectively, the author shares her SPLIT framework for mitigating social distance. It has five components: Structure—If a team is made up of groups with different views about their relative power, the leader should connect frequently with those who are farthest away and emphasize unity. Process—Meeting processes should allow for informal interactions that build empathy. Language—Everyone, regardless of language fluency, should be empowered to speak up. Identity—Team members must be active cultural learners and teachers to understand one another's identity and avoid misinterpreting behaviors. Technology—When choosing between videoconferencing, e-mail, and other modes of communication, leaders should ask themselves if real-time conversation is desirable, if their message needs reinforcement, and if they are opting for the technology they want others to use.

    Keywords: Globalized Firms and Management; Groups and Teams; Performance; Cross-Cultural and Cross-Border Issues;


    Neeley, Tsedal. "Global Teams That Work." Harvard Business Review 93, no. 10 (October 2015): 74–81. View Details
  3. What's Your Language Strategy?: It Should Bind Your Company's Global Talent Management and Vision

    Tsedal Neeley and Robert Steven Kaplan

    Language pervades every aspect of organizational life. Yet leaders of global organizations—where unrestricted multilingualism can create friction—often pay too little attention to it in their approach to talent management. By managing language carefully, firms can hire and develop the best employees, improve collaboration on global teams, and strengthen the company's footing in local markets. Language proficiency—either in a lingua franca, or shared language, or in a local language—does not guarantee high performance. Recruiters may favor fluency over other capabilities. They may rely on external hires with language skills rather than grooming internal candidates with the capacity and motivation to learn new languages. And leaders may give expatriate assignments not to the best candidates but to people who speak certain languages. To hire and promote the best people, firms may need to provide training to meet global and local language needs. Fluency in a language also does not equal cultural fluency. For leaders, understanding the cultural background of each team member and customers is as essential as learning to conjugate new verbs. The same can be said for employees at all levels: even when they are fluent in the lingua franca, a lack of cultural understanding can cause significant misunderstandings. To prevent such rifts, language training must include cross-cultural education.


    Neeley, Tsedal, and Robert Steven Kaplan. "What's Your Language Strategy? It Should Bind Your Company's Global Talent Management and Vision." R1409D. Harvard Business Review 92, no. 9 (September 2014): 70–76. View Details
  4. Language as a Lightning Rod: Power Contests, Emotion Regulation, and Subgroup Dynamics in Global Teams

    Pamela J. Hinds, Tsedal Neeley and Catherine Durnell Cramton

    Through an ethnographic study comprised of interviews with and observations of 96 globally distributed members in six software development teams, we propose a model that captures how asymmetries in language fluency contribute to an us vs. them dynamic so common in global teams. Faultlines, formed along the dimensions of asymmetries in the degree of fluency of team members, location, and nationality, were associated with subgrouping in some, but not all of the teams. Our findings suggest that divisive subgroup dynamics only occurred in teams that also suffered from power contests, suggesting power contests activate otherwise dormant faultlines. Language asymmetries further acted as a lightning rod such that team members' emotional responses to them were constant reminders of subgroup differences on these teams, which further fueled negative emotions. Our findings extend theory on subgroup dynamics in global teams by adding language as a potential faultline, showing how power struggles activated faultlines and were, in turn, reinforced by them, and documenting the emotion regulation processes triggered by subgrouping and enacted through language-related choices and behaviors.

    Keywords: Equality and Inequality; Communication Intention and Meaning; Groups and Teams; Software; Emotions; Cross-Cultural and Cross-Border Issues; Power and Influence; Information Technology Industry;


    Hinds, Pamela J., Tsedal Neeley, and Catherine Durnell Cramton. "Language as a Lightning Rod: Power Contests, Emotion Regulation, and Subgroup Dynamics in Global Teams." Journal of International Business Studies 45, no. 5 (June–July 2014): 536–561. View Details
  5. Language Matters: Status Loss & Achieved Status Distinctions in Global Organizations

    Tsedal Neeley

    How workers experience and express status loss in organizations has received little scholarly attention. I conducted a qualitative study of a French high-tech company that had instituted English as a lingua franca, or common language, as a context for examining this question. Results indicate that nonnative English-speaking employees experienced status loss regardless of their English fluency level. Yet variability in their self-assessed fluency—an achieved status marker—was associated with differences in language performance anxiety and job insecurity in a non-linear fashion: those who believed they had medium level fluency were the most anxious compared to their low and high fluency co-workers. In almost all cases where they differed, self-assessed rather than objective fluency determined how speakers explained their feelings and actions. Although nonnative speakers shared a common attitude of resentment and distrust toward their native English-speaking co-workers, their behavioral responses—assertion, inhibition, or learning—to encounters with native speakers differed based on their self-perceived fluencies. No status differences materialized among nonnative speakers as a function of diverse linguistic and national backgrounds. I discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings for status, achieved characteristics, and language in organizations.

    Keywords: Organizations; Status and Position; Loss; Spoken Communication; Emotions; Attitudes; Behavior;


    Neeley, Tsedal. "Language Matters: Status Loss & Achieved Status Distinctions in Global Organizations." Organization Science 24, no. 2 (March–April 2013): 476–497. View Details
  6. Reflected Knowledge and Trust in Global Collaboration

    Mark Mortensen and Tsedal Neeley

    Scholars argue that direct knowledge about distant colleagues is crucial for fostering trust in global collaboration. However, their arguments focus mainly on how trust accrues from knowledge about distant collaborators' personal characteristics, relationships, and behavioral norms. We suggest that an equally important trust mechanism is "reflected knowledge," knowledge focal actors gain about the personal characteristics, relationships, and behavioral norms of their own site through the lens of their distant collaborators. Based on surveys gathered from 140 employees in a division of a global chemical company, we found that direct knowledge and reflected knowledge enhanced trust differentially. While both enhanced feelings of closeness with others, results indicate that direct knowledge increased focal actors' understanding of their distant colleagues, while reflected knowledge promoted feelings of being understood. We discuss implications of reflected knowledge to theories of trust and interpersonal dynamics in globally distributed collaboration.

    Keywords: Knowledge; Trust; Globalization; Relationships; Behavior; Surveys; Personal Characteristics; Chemicals; Emotions; Cooperation;


    Mortensen, Mark, and Tsedal Neeley. "Reflected Knowledge and Trust in Global Collaboration." Management Science 58, no. 12 (December 2012): 2207–2224. (equal authorship.) View Details
  7. The (Un)Hidden Turmoil of Language in Global Collaboration

    Tsedal Neeley, Pamela J. Hinds and Catherine D. Cramton

    Companies are increasingly relying on a lingua franca, or common language (usually English), to facilitate cross-border collaboration. Despite the numerous benefits of a lingua franca, our research reveals myriad challenges that disrupt collaboration and contribute to process decrements and productivity losses, many of which are hidden from leaders' attention. Through a series of field studies with global companies, we document language dynamics among global workers. Most notably, we found that both native and nonnative English speakers suffer anxiety when faced with conducting business in English. Nonnative English speakers respond with anxiety-mitigating strategies, such as avoiding English-only speakers or reverting to their native language, thus passing the problem like a "hot potato" to their native English-speaking colleagues. Native English speakers respond with strategies to reduce their own anxiety, such as exiting meetings and demanding that English be spoken, which passes the burden back to their nonnative English speaking colleagues. This back-and-forth dynamic often occurs because the feelings and experiences of native and nonnative co-workers are hidden from each other. Empathy arrests this cycle, leading to more sensitivity and accommodation of language diversity. Based on the insights from our research, we present lessons that global managers and collaborators alike can employ to halt the "hot potato" cycle and minimize productivity loss in global collaborations.

    Keywords: Strategy; Loss; Spoken Communication; Performance Productivity; Research; Global Range; Problems and Challenges; Diversity; Cross-Cultural and Cross-Border Issues;


    Neeley, Tsedal, Pamela J. Hinds, and Catherine D. Cramton. "The (Un)Hidden Turmoil of Language in Global Collaboration." Organizational Dynamics 41, no. 3 (July–September 2012): 236–244. View Details
  8. How Managers Use Multiple Media: Discrepant Events, Power and Timing in Redundant Communication

    Paul Leonardi, Tsedal Neeley and Elizabeth M. Gerber

    Several recent studies have found that managers engage in redundant communication; that is, they send the same message to the same recipient through two or more unique media sequentially. Given how busy most managers are, and how much information their subordinates receive on a daily basis, this practice seems, initially, quite puzzling. We conducted an ethnographic investigation to examine the nature of events that compelled managers to engage in redundant communication. Our study of the communication patterns of project managers in six companies across three industries indicates that redundant communication is a response to unexpected endogenous or exogenous threats to meeting work goals. Managers employed two distinct forms of redundant communication to mobilize team members toward mitigating potentially threatening discrepant events-unforeseen disruptive occurrences during the regular course of work. Managers with positional power over team members reactively followed up on a single communication when their attempt to communicate the existence of a threatening discrepant event failed, and they determined that a second communication was needed to enable its joint interpretation and to gain buy-in. In contrast, managers without positional power over team members proactively used redundant communication to enroll team members in the interpretation process-leading team members to believe that they had come up with the idea that completion of their project was under threat-and then to solidify those interpretations. Moreover, findings indicate that managers used different types of technologies for these sequential pairings based on whether their motivation was simply to transmit a communication of threat or to persuade people that a threat existed. We discuss the implications of these findings for theory about, and the practice of, technologically mediated communication, power, and interpretation in organizations.

    Keywords: Media; Time Management; Communication; Information; Mission and Purpose; Groups and Teams; Projects; Motivation and Incentives; Organizations; Technology;


    Leonardi, Paul, Tsedal Neeley, and Elizabeth M. Gerber. "How Managers Use Multiple Media: Discrepant Events, Power and Timing in Redundant Communication." Organization Science 23, no. 1 (January–February 2012). View Details
  9. Effective Managers Say the Same Thing Twice (or More)

    Tsedal Neeley and Paul Leonardi

    How do effective managers get employees to act promptly? New research suggests that it's by making their requests at least twice. Though you may think redundancy is unnecessary and even a waste of time, a new study indicates that it helps your message cut through today's information overload.

    Keywords: Interpersonal Communication; Employees; Management Style; Performance Improvement;


    Neeley, Tsedal, and Paul Leonardi. "Effective Managers Say the Same Thing Twice (or More)." Harvard Business Review 89, no. 5 (May 2011): 38–39. View Details

Book Chapters

  1. The Language of Global Management

    Tsedal Neeley

    Over the last two decades, organizations seeking global expansion have been mandating an English lingua franca, or common language to facilitate global collaboration regardless of the country location of their headquarters. This article explains why stipulating a lingua franca for employees has replaced the exclusive use of language brokers. In the era of a business lingua franca, nevertheless, gives rise to the phenomenon of native and nonnative speakers. While a lingua franca can unify a nationally and linguistically diverse workforce, nascent research reveals challenging dynamics among speakers of various levels of lingua franca fluency. In-depth studies at the micro-, macro-, and meso-levels can shed important light on this nascent field of research.

    Keywords: Networks; Governance; Technology; Management; Ethics; Emerging Markets; Innovation and Invention;


    Neeley, Tsedal. "The Language of Global Management." In Wiley Encyclopedia of Management, Volume 6: International Management. 3rd ed. Edited by Markus Vodosek and Deanne den Hartog. John Wiley & Sons, 2014. View Details

Working Papers

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Lighting the Fire: Crafting and Delivering Broadly Inspiring Messages

    Tsedal Neeley and Tom Ryder

    Communicating persuasively is a critical skill for leaders of any team or organization. Yet, connecting and resonating with an audience can nevertheless be a challenging task. We outline how to effectively mobilize groups through the power of communication. This note will serve leaders and members of diverse groups as they find their voice to inspire, unite, and engage others through messaging. With multiple examples as a backdrop, we highlight four key components of effective messaging in this note: 1) Structuring Messages and the Persuasive Story Pattern, 2) Appealing to the Audience, 3) Persuasively Communicating through Rhetorical Devices, and 4) Delivering Clear and Captivating Messages.

    Keywords: messaging; communication; leading; public speaking; persuasion; rhetorical devices; Communication Intention and Meaning; Forms of Communication; Communication Strategy;


    Neeley, Tsedal, and Tom Ryder. "Lighting the Fire: Crafting and Delivering Broadly Inspiring Messages." Harvard Business School Technical Note 416-046, March 2016. View Details
  2. (Re)Building a Global Team: Tariq Khan at Tek

    Tsedal Neeley

    Tariq Khan arrived home after a nearly 16-hour meeting. He was grappling with whether to take the global sales and marketing team manager position that had been offered to him, and had spent the entire day with the senior leadership of his potential new team. He wanted to understand the causes of the group's multiple problems and get a handle on how to help them thrive. But so far, the meeting had raised more questions than answers.

    Keywords: Personal Development and Career; Decision Making; Problems and Challenges;


    Neeley, Tsedal. "(Re)Building a Global Team: Tariq Khan at Tek." Harvard Business School Case 414-059, December 2013. (Revised November 2015.) View Details
  3. Hiroshi Mikitani Reflects and Provides Early Updates on Englishnization (November, 2011)

    Tsedal Neeley

    CEO of Rakuten, Hiroshi Mikitani, candidly responds to controversial questions about his Englishnization strategy and implementation across 7,100 employees a year and a half later: Did he make an impulsive move when he mandated English as the company language? Why does he enforce a universal mandate? How has he adjusted his stance on how to elicit commitment from his employees over time? Is he imposing the pursuit of being a role model company of a new Japan on his employees?

    Keywords: language; culture; globalization; communication barriers; dynamic global marketplace; rapid change; Change Management; Ethnicity; Communication; Globalization; Management Teams; Japan;


    Neeley, Tsedal. "Hiroshi Mikitani Reflects and Provides Early Updates on Englishnization (November, 2011)." Harvard Business School Video Supplement 413-703, September 2012. View Details
  4. Language and Globalization: 'Englishnization' at Rakuten (A)

    Tsedal Neeley

    Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Rakuten, (Japan's largest online retailer), is at the helm of an organization that is rapidly expanding into global markets. In a critical stride toward becoming the world's No. 1 Internet services company, Mikitani announces Englishnization—a highly publicized aggressive two-year English proficiency mandate for all 7,100 of Rakuten's Japanese employees. Mikitani's goal is not only to ensure the success of the organization, but also to break down linguistic and cultural boundaries in Japanese society. At the time, only an estimated 10% of the Japanese staff could function in English. The stakes are high: those who do not reach their target score by the deadline risk being demoted. As Englishnization progresses, loss of productivity, lack of time to study, and conflicted views among managers impede staff success. Some employees even question the relevance of Englishnization, particularly for staff working exclusively in Japan. Fifteen months since the announcement, the vast majority had not yet reached their target English proficiency scores. With the deadline rapidly approaching, Mikitani must decide how to proceed to ensure the success of Englishnization, the continued global rise of his organization, and even the future of Japan.

    Keywords: Teaching; Human Capital; Change Management; Transformation; Social Enterprise; Communication Strategy; Internet; Disruptive Innovation; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Strategic Planning; Leadership; Global Strategy; Technology Industry; Retail Industry; Japan;


    Neeley, Tsedal. "Language and Globalization: 'Englishnization' at Rakuten (A)." Harvard Business School Case 412-002, August 2011. (Revised April 2013.) View Details
  5. Managing a Global Team: Greg James at Sun Microsystems, Inc. (A)

    Tsedal Neeley and Thomas J. DeLong

    Greg James, a global manager at Sun Microsystems, Inc., sets out to meet with his entire 43-member customer implementation team spread across India, France, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States of America to resolve a dire customer system outage as required by a service agreement. Rather than finding a swift resolution to the rapidly escalating customer situation that motivated his trip, he finds himself facing distributed work, global collaboration, conflict, and management issues that are threatening to unravel his team.

    Keywords: Customer Satisfaction; Crisis Management; Service Delivery; Groups and Teams; Conflict and Resolution; Technology Industry; India; United Arab Emirates; France; United States;


    Neeley, Tsedal, and Thomas J. DeLong. "Managing a Global Team: Greg James at Sun Microsystems, Inc. (A)." Harvard Business School Case 409-003, July 2008. (Revised November 2009.) View Details
  6. Managing a Global Team: Greg James at Sun Microsystems, Inc. (B)

    Tsedal Neeley

    This case updates students on the steps Greg James took to solve the problems that instigated the crisis documented in “Managing a Global Team: Greg James at Sun Microsystems, Inc. (A).” We find out how James solves the process problems involved in his team's breakdown and creates team cohesion to help them function together effectively. We also learn whether or not James is successful in taking his global team to a new level of productivity and customer service.

    Keywords: Customer Satisfaction; Globalized Firms and Management; Crisis Management; Service Delivery; Business Processes; Performance Productivity; Groups and Teams; Technology Industry;


    Neeley, Tsedal. "Managing a Global Team: Greg James at Sun Microsystems, Inc. (B)." Harvard Business School Supplement 410-020, November 2009. View Details


  1. Can a Lingua Franca Create Unearned Status Gain for Native Speakers in Global Organizations?

    Tsedal Neeley and Tracy Dumas


    Neeley, Tsedal, and Tracy Dumas. "Can a Lingua Franca Create Unearned Status Gain for Native Speakers in Global Organizations?" In Sub-theme 31: Perspectives on Management Expertise and Advice in Global and Linguistically Diverse Organizational Contexts. Paper presented at the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) Conference, Athens, Greece, July 2015. View Details
  2. Hiring and Status Evaluation for Accented Nonnative Speakers in Global Organizations

    Tsedal Neeley, Tina Opie, Wannawiruch Wiruchnipawan, Melissa Thomas-Hunt and Jeffrey T. Polzer


    Neeley, Tsedal, Tina Opie, Wannawiruch Wiruchnipawan, Melissa Thomas-Hunt, and Jeffrey T. Polzer. "Hiring and Status Evaluation for Accented Nonnative Speakers in Global Organizations." In a symposium entitled Complexity and Nuance in Communication in Global Organizations. Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, August 3, 2014. View Details
  3. Global Language Mandates Create Status Differences for Nonnative Speakers

    Tsedal Neeley, Wannawiruch Wiruchnipawan and Jeffrey T. Polzer


    Neeley, Tsedal, Wannawiruch Wiruchnipawan, and Jeffrey T. Polzer. "Global Language Mandates Create Status Differences for Nonnative Speakers." In Status Conscious: Perceiving and Reacting to Status Differences in Organizations. Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL, August 13, 2013. View Details
  4. Being There: Firsthand Experience and Perceived Reflected Knowledge in Engendering Trust in Global Collaboration

    Tsedal Neeley and Mark Mortensen

    Keywords: Knowledge; Perception; Trust;


    Neeley, Tsedal, and Mark Mortensen. "Being There: Firsthand Experience and Perceived Reflected Knowledge in Engendering Trust in Global Collaboration." Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada, August 09, 2010. View Details
  5. Redundant Communication: Redundancy as a Strategic Practice in Project Management Work

    P. M. Leonardi, T. Beyene and E. M. Gerber

    Keywords: Communication; Strategy; Management Practices and Processes; Projects;


    Leonardi, P. M., T. Beyene, and E. M. Gerber. "Redundant Communication: Redundancy as a Strategic Practice in Project Management Work." Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting, August 01, 2007. View Details
  6. Language Challenges in International Work: The Impact of Uneven Proficiency in the Lingua Franca

    T. Beyene, P.J. Hinds and C. D. Cramton

    Keywords: Communication; Competency and Skills;


    Beyene, T., P.J. Hinds, and C. D. Cramton. "Language Challenges in International Work: The Impact of Uneven Proficiency in the Lingua Franca." Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Honolulu, August 05–10, 2005. View Details