Do You Know Your Team in Russia?

Russia’s rigorous standards and leadership in math and science produce top talent engineers, software developers, scientists, R&D researchers and business analysts – so how many Russians are you working with these days? With Russia’s accession in August 2012 to the WTO (the 156th member), global companies will have opportunities as Russian leadership liberalizes trade, encourages investment, and diversifies the economy of the world’s biggest energy exporter. For any inostrantsy (foreigners) working with Russians, there are ways to build trust, clarify understandings, and persuade Russian colleagues to achieve compatible goals.

Moscow at Christmas – Photo by Olga Ivanova-Nuss


“Russians desire to “live during work”; I mean, they will never choose a company with huge opportunity for the career if they don’t like the people there…” – Russian engineering manager

You may find these ten tips useful when working with Russians.

  1. Build chemistry.Good work relationships require strong respect and trust, leading to open up the Russian hearts. Participate in give-and-take about each other’s country. Russians will make the effort to be informed about the country of their counterpart, and they have the same expectation of you. Be informed and sensitive to Russian national pride, traditions, and ideals. Try and speak a few words in Russian, such as daily greetings or giving a toast. The effort will not go unnoticed.
  2. Focus your meetings. – Hold highly focused meetings, as needed. Invite only the “core team” who are directly involved in the agenda items (which, of course, you have focused and prioritized), will bring information, and will ask specific questions. Russians say Americans often have too many meetings, with a lot of people who don’t relate directly to the topics discussed, ask too many general questions, wasting everybody’s time. Some Russians even avoid attending team meetings when they don’t view them as productive.
  3. Persuade with logic. – Though Russians may be impressed by American presentation skills and confidence, they are not always persuaded. Using logic and intellectual give-and-take, theoretical background and facts, the speaker’s credibility (experience, credentials), plus intensity of emotion will lead to persuading the Russian colleague. Where logic fails to persuade Russian colleagues, remember to be sensitive to their pride. An indirect offer of help, “Perhaps you could test our method, let us know what you think” can move past obstacles.
  4. Take breaks for language chats. – English language challenges during teleconferences or face-to-face meetings can be alleviated by allowing time for chats among the Russians during the meeting.  Conferring in their first language, русский, can speed the analysis, and produce responses or clarifying questions. They need time to think in order to give the best answer or offer a solution.
  5. Power is respected, but don’t micromanage. – Decisions and goal setting in Russia are usually made by senior management and handed down to subordinates. However, once that is in place, the employee has a great deal of “lateral” range to decide on processes.  Hierarchies are respected and followed, but it is still rare to see a subordinate openly disagree with a superior.
  6. Trust, but verify. – Russians are used to excessive rules and procedures, and sometimes resent and even disregard them. A person’s own sense of what is “right” may prevail over “rules.” Offer detailed explanations of why Russians should carry out the instructions, rules or procedures; later verify if the procedures or deadlines are being followed or been modified.
  7. Nyet! may be a starting place. – Russians are an emotive, passionate people and can be blunt and direct when they disagree. Prepare yourself for this candor, sometimes accompanied by raised voices or fist-banging on the table. They may be showing what they are feeling when trust is built, or testing whether you have taken a firm stand.
  8. Be realistic and direct. – Giving a “rosy, optimistic” picture will not inspire trust among Russian colleagues. You can present a positive outlook but combined with any negative aspects or consequences that the team can incur. Answer questions directly. The Russians say: “Bitter truth is better than sweet lie”.
  9. Time zones are challenging. – Most Russians care deeply about family and friends, and when leaving work don’t expect to continue working at night on a regular basis (such as attending virtual meetings and checking email). Be fair and alternate early and late virtual meetings based on the time difference.
  10. Motivate with meaningful work. – How quickly one moves up the corporate ladder is a sign of success for many Russians. However, many engineers may avoid management positions, seeing them as added responsibility at the same pay, with less interesting work that they are not trained for.

Next! To expand your knowledge and skills in working with Russians and other cultures in global teams, request more resources and contact Charis at or call +01  925.931.0555.