Working with Global Teams: Date Formats


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This is part of the Working with Global Teams series


Previous Post: Working with Global Teams: Pesky Time Zones

OK, I’m going to give you a date, and I want you, without thinking about it, to tell me when it is.


Did you choose the 7th day of the 11th month of 2007? Or did you choose the 11th day of the 7th month of 2007? Or even the 7th day of June 2011?

All three are valid.

I’m sure whatever you choose was based on what is normal where you live. And that’s great when communicating with other people within that area (city, county, country).

But when you working beyond the extend of that area, as part of a global group for example, then you need to be aware of the date formats.

For example, if someone in Japan was asked to do something by 11/10/12, then they would aim at the 12th day of October 2011. While someone in North America would know that, obviously, the date is November 10, 2012.

Real life example – my car was broken into when I was in the United States. The police officer who arrived, asked me for my date of birth. I told him 17-11-73 (17th day of November 1973 – and not my real date of birth). You’d think that, obviously, there is no 17th month, that he would be able to work out what I meant. However, he was so used to MM-DD-YYY that he had to stop and think about it.

While it’s easy to rant and rave about how stupid this is, the fact is that different date formats are one of the things that comes with working with a global team.

ISO 8601 suggests using YYYY-MM-DD (similar to what our Japanese friend in the example would use). I think that this is a brilliant idea, and gives a clear standard. Also it allows a list of dates (in a spreadsheet or similar) to be easily put in order.)

However, I know that unless you were used to it, even this would cause frustration, and possible errors (until it became second nature).

When communicating with people in other parts of the world, using e-mail, fax, or carrier pigeon, I recommend using a  long date form. Something like “10 January 2013”, or “January 10, 2012”. Sure – even there, there are differences in the way that it is written, but at least you know what the month is, you can see what the year is, and (hopefully) you can work out that the rest is the day.

This would certainly prevent issues and miscommunication regarding dates.

For some interesting reading on this subject , check out the following:

  • Date and Time Format (W3C)
  • “A summary of the international standard date and time notation” by Markus Kuhn
  • ISO 8601 (Wikipedia)