Working Across Borders: How Hard Can It Be?

February 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

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In today’s competitive environment most of us work across borders of one kind or another, but for me it is at the core of what I do… who I am.

The reality is that we live in a global economy – with instantaneous communication, online connectivity, unlimited tools, and the ability to see and interact with people on the other side of the world. You have to pause and ask yourself – how hard can it be to interact successfully with supervisors, subordinates, suppliers, customers, and/or partners from around the world? As it turns out, a whole lot harder than it looks…


From personal experience, I can tell you that helping people accelerate as effective leaders in a global economy is complex… and critically important. As a leader in a very diverse, often virtual, world you have to learn how to adapt how you think and behave when interacting with diverse populations from around the world… or across the building. Subtle differences in communication patterns, and complex variations of what is considered good business from one culture to another, have a tremendous impact on how you understand your colleagues and on how you manage your diverse human capital. Many of these differences – such as when to speak or stay quiet, your role as a leader, and what kind of feedback is the most useful – may seem small, but if you don’t understand them, it can lead to:

Ineffective Teams

Demotivated Employees

A Frustrated Workforce

Suboptimal Business Results

 Most leaders working across borders have little understanding of how culture impacts their work and negative situations arise because of it. Don’t put yourself and your career at risk by not understanding the fundamentals of successfully working across borders. In the U.S., for example, Americans tend to recap meetings and send out written summaries to attendees. In the western world that’s just a good business practice, however in many countries a verbal summary is sufficient. If you were to put in writing and send out what you already discussed in the meeting, it would appear as a clear indicator that you don’t trust your colleagues to get the job done. An American without the appropriate knowledge and preparation is highly likely to unknowingly offend someone from another culture (say, Indonesia, for example) and created a negative impression without the right cross-cultural instruction.

In order to lay the foundation for global success, consider that communication is the key to global collaboration. When individuals from different cultural backgrounds miscommunicate, it inevitably leads to suboptimal business results.  Culture forms the way we think, act… and react – across all spectrums – often causing individuals to perceive reality very differently across borders.


Your cross-border interactions have the capacity to generate positive results … IF you follow a clear methodology for establishing successful cross-cultural interactions. In order to mobilize the diverse, dispersed multi-cultural power in your organization, you should consider CIPATM (Cultural Integration Practical Application):

  1. Internalize The Impact & Importance Of Cross-Cultural Interactions:   Establish Awareness

Knowledge is power. Incorporating cross-cultural context will provide you (and your people) with a mechanism not only to understand that we all see things differently, but also to comprehend that these perspectives have an enormous impact on attitudes, beliefs and behaviors… and on your ability to work effectively across borders. It is not enough for you to simply know about different functions and cultures – you need to gain a deeper understanding as to why you are different from your colleagues. You must internalize the intrinsic value and meaning of cross-cultural interactions…or significantly increase your likelihood of failure.

  1. Incorporate Cross-Cultural Inventories:  Employ Assessments

Cross-cultural assessment provides insight as to how to best interact with and leverage organizational diversity – but more importantly, it provides you with insight as to your specific cultural norms and preferences while also allowing you to better identify cross-cultural norms and preferences amongst your global colleagues. Assessments allow you to discover how you can best communicate and leverage others for organizational success. In order to effectively collaborate, you need to understand what is enabling success or hindering progress in a global context.

  1. Integrate Cross-Cultural Orientations:   Enable Alignment

Orientations provide you with a way to understand your own and colleagues’ behaviors. Once you begin to understand the specific components of culture you see differently from your colleagues, you will gain the ability to identify specific behavioral differences that inhibit your ability to build bridges between perspectives… and effectively collaborate across borders.

  1. Instigate Strategic Intention:   Empower Action

Strategic Intention provides you with a toolbox of reliable methods for strategically evaluating any situation – cultural, functional, or organizational – very quickly. It delivers a clear process for you to intentionally prepare for interactions with your colleagues from diverse cultures on the spot – or use the same tools to help you strategically prepare in advance for almost any situation that has the potential to thwart global alignment.

Understand that one or another of these tools is not enough to equip your organization for its’ best chance at success. What few realize, is that these tools build upon one another to enable working successfully across borders. An assessment may provide insight, but it will not tell you what to do with that insight…cross-cultural principles may provide a foundation from which to go forward, but they will not help you to understand your colleagues… and while orientations may provide inherent understanding of behaviors and perspectives, they will not provide you with a strategic process from which to interact. Each step is necessary… each step builds upon the last…. each step is mutually inclusive.

Give yourself a critical advantage – equip yourself with a toolbox that facilitates cross-cultural success.

Do You Have The Tools You Really Need To Productively Work Across Borders?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how you equip yourself to effectively work across borders.

Do you need an expert to help you with cross-cultural communications and global leadership?

Contact me at or by visiting our website at

Check back next week for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.



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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

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