Question: Giving feedback to members of a remote team

In addition to my direct reports in San Francisco, I manage a small development team in Delhi. For HR reasons, they report to an India manager as well, but work primarily with me and my local staff.

I am getting ready to meet them in person, and I would like to talk 1-on-1 with some of them. However, I am not sure I understand their work context well enough to give them very specific feedback. And I definitely don't want to step on anyone's toes.

Can you recommend me a general approach I can take?

9 Expert Insights

Ask questions about their goals, their roles, their understanding of expectations, obstacles to achievement, what they would like to have to do a better job.

For each question, actively listen without judging. Seek to empower, NOT to diminish.

What a great question.

Do you have a standard performance appraisal that describes goals and expectations? This will be important as a starting point and if nothing standard - you may want to create something for your conversations and one on one meetings.

It might be useful to align with their local Indian manager and co-deliver the feedback so everyone is aligned on expectations. This will also enable the local manager to support them in meeting your goals. You may also want to align periodically with the Indian Manager periodically so you can understand how to drive performance based on the context.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck with this feedback. Maureen.

If you have not already, please do some web research on cultural differences and sensitivity with Indian culture. I'm sure there are books available as well to give you a general overview. I am certain, too, that in SF you have access to many Indian-born colleagues within your organization or with customers, partners, affiliates, etc., and I'd ask some of them for a few words on the right way to approach your Delhi-based team members.

Questions you'll wish to explore include how to give permission to speak freely, whether you will need to read between the lines of the spoken word to get to the unspoken sentiments or if your team will feel culturally comfortable with honest feedback about you and the work, and how to structure the conversation - i.e., whether to start on social topics and move to business (and how to make that transition), or if you will be expected to just jump right in since you're the boss/visitor.

To "understand their work context," is there anything you can do while still in the States? If you're not directing their work, who is, and what tasks are they being given in addition to whatever you might assign? If you mean the context of their life outside of the work they do, you may be getting onto tricky ground, since cultural assumptions about work/life balance, value of money vs. respect, collaborative vs. individual work-styles may all be part of that conversation. Ask your local Indian SME's how they or their friends would like to see these matters sensitively raised. And good luck!

Great answers above. The suggestion to check in with colleagues about their own perspective and experiences in interacting with colleagues from India will be really helpful. If you can, talk to a colleague who also has a team in India.

Decide in advance what you want to achieve when you go to India. Think of just three things to do while there that will help move you towards that goal.

Most importantly, remember they are people. They will want to get to know you and feel connected to you. Hold a team meeting while there and share a personal story. Help them feel connected to the company. Ask them what would help them in their job. Ask what they think you and the team in the United States could do better. Your colleagues in India will want to make a good impression just like we all do when we meet someone for the first time. Have a good time!

You have good advice above. I'd add: who in your SF office has done this? Talk to them. What's your reason for going? Is there a corporate message you are also asked to deliver?  In addition to finding out the cultural differences (for decision making, saying yes/no, building trust, etc., ) find out what the signs are for stepping on toes... and how to clean up afterwards.

Remote management is challenging. Your scenario is what I refer to in my book , A Manager's Guide to Virtual Teams, as 'Identity Conflict'.  It occurs when there are multiple perspectives, leaving the person confused about feedback. Without going into details , I'd like to offer you suggestions.  First, get specific examples from the local manager and team members in behavior based terms. Begin with the employee's perspective. Avoid dominating the call, even if you have a lot to say. Consider cross cultural factors and language differences.  Get comfortable with pauses and silence.


1. Combine Chats - Set regularly scheduled feedback sessions with remote employees.  But don't pass up an opportunity to pick up the phone in between.

2. Use Technology - There are many options besides the telephone.  Use web conferencing, wikis, or blogs for shared note taking.  If possible, use webcams to allow a more virtual "face-to-face" interaction.

3. Begin With Results - Use performance metrics (measureable - M of SMART goals)  that will make discussing work outputs with your employee feel natural, but don't stop there.  Use performance indicators as jumping off points into a deeper dialogue about work and resource needs.

4. Listen - Stay focused on the employee. Use active listening techniques such as clarifying and paraphrasing. When responding, restate what you heard and give the person time to explain.

5. Give Balanced Feedback - Itemize merits and faults in that order, making them specific and task related. Offer suggestions and invite further comments.

6. Offer Reinforcement - Indicate how you want to improve and connect the person's perspective and yours. Then mention additional benefits and suggest modifications.

7. Acknowledge - Remember that remote employees don't have the advantage of seeing what is going on, so restate your decision to support the employee. Reflect and agree on an approach going forward.

My six colleagues above have already given you great advice! Going forward with everything above should cover you.
A few nuances and tips building upon what they've already covered.

Ears, two. Mouth, one. Use them in those proportions. Your most crucial role is to listen and learn.

To do that, from what's above plus your own experience, meet each individual with a set of Go To 5 or so questions, and then, as your conversation unfolds with each person, figure out which one or two or three of the questions is most relevant to them. Among my universal Go To questions:

• What does success look like? (For you, not just the company)
• What are your top one or two toughest challenges?
• What's holding you back from getting more done? (Not just moremoremore, more done that really matters)
• What bottlenecks or barriers can I remove for you?
• What resources or tools would help you achieve more of what really matters?

Consider all of those questions the 80/20 rule.
There may be 20% of what they need and what you need to do with them that falls outside of those Go To questions,
but if they're the right questions, you'll likely cover 80% of what they need and what you need with them!

Finally, always remember that this is all about relationship building. It's NOT crucial that you and they figure everything out on this first face-to-face. It IS crucial that you begin building a relationship so that you and they have a great foundation to build upon.
Laugh, play, eat and share together!
Get to know them as people, as parents, as lifelong learners, as who they are beyond their work.

That foundation will serve you and them and the company well. Fess up when you mess up. Being human matters!

Don't feel as though you need to provide feedback to them immediately. This is a phenomenal chance for you to get to know your team beyond just the work they perform. Learn who they are as people, not just employees. As you get to know them, new questions will naturally pop up. Use these to deepen your understanding of what's important to them, what engages them, and what saps their energy. When you have a better idea of these things, then you can begin to focus your conversation around their performance.

Do you have experience working in India? Do you understand, even at a surface level, the cultural differences that exist there? Spend some time chatting with your counterpart in India to learn more.

Finally, I might suggest that you trust your own intuition. Pay attention to how you think your conversations are going and be authentic in admitting if it doesn't seem to be progressing well.

Best of luck! Let me know if I can assist!

First, I want to acknowledge that my comment is not based on direct experience with Indian direct reports. But from 10 years in international business, I had a great deal of exposure to culture clashes. I've also coached a mid-level executive in China who reported to a VP in the States. Much of our time was spent aligning values and expectations between the two cultures.

I think the biggest key for you is to rigorously investigate the cultural context for management in India. I suspect your visit could be jarring and intimidating to your team there, especially if you are too forceful with an American-style of managing. For example, if you present a caring, touchy-feely persona, this could create confusion or disrespect if the team's norm is having a highly directive boss.  

It's great that you already understand the potential pitfalls of culture clashes. I would encourage you to use LinkedIn and other resources to find Americans with direct experience managing employees in India.  I would probably include Indian managers of Indian employees to gain their perspective.