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May 22, 2007

Team Collaboration when translating

(Edited by freelance Chinese translator li – English to Chinese or Chinese to English translation services)
Have you ever been to a job interview and been asked to spell the word “team” on a piece of paper? You are supposed to use cursive so all the letters are connected. If you don’t, the interviewer will say you don’t understand the meaning of “team.”

Team collaboration is important for the success of all translation and interpretation projects. There are many linguists out there that are not capable of collaborating and will sacrifice or jeopardize the success of a project. It is the project managers’ responsibility to ensure the selection of right linguists that will work together as a team.

Here are a few of the key points that will help create team collaboration.
Define Responsibilities – your team needs to know what role each person is responsible to handle.
Own Your Work – each linguist needs to realize their work is representative of their professionalism and their reputation is on the line. Thus, everyone must be accountable for complete project success.
Communicate – being responsive and clear in communications gives your teammates an informative advantage.
Constructive Criticism – using constructive criticism rather than emotionally charged discourse helps to maintain a positive atmosphere amongst the team.
Planning – devising a schedule requires the team to be responsive and have punctual deliveries. It doesn’t hurt to have a back-up or contingency plan to prepare for the unknown.

Putting together a group of team players can be tough. The most difficult aspect of team collaboration is dealing with linguists that are freelancers and don’t always share the same common goal. Freelance linguists come from all walks of life; some receive professional training on frequent intervals and others have minimal training but possess many years of OTJ experience.

Whatever variables are involved, developing team collaboration amongst freelancers calls for leadership, people skills, business acumen, realistic expectations and the ability to establish trust amongst the members of the team. It is very helpful to decentralize decisions – making the team share the responsibility so that the problem solving process is objective; not focused on the people, but the issues. If the entire burden is put on one individual, they are likely to be overwhelmed. Another component to team collaboration is recognition and positive reinforcement. Individuals on the team will function effectively when their contributions are appreciated.

Asides from the charisma of a good leader, the teammates will likely desire to feel a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging is as equally important in one’s job as it is in all aspects of life: family; social activities; hobbies; citizenship in their country, religion and others. Along with a sense of belonging comes motivation and desire to be passionate about what you do.

A team player without a sense of belonging is destined to fail. He or she will lack the commitment and integrity - likely just doing the task to collect their paycheck at the end of the day. On the other hand, those that feel like they belong to a team exert the extra effort, work the late night hours to meet deadlines and accept responsibility for their mistakes and endeavor to improve themselves through experience.

A former race car driver I know, and now translator, Luis Fernando Moreno, described to me how each team member on a team is equally important. This is how he looks at a team: “I remember from my racing days all the lessons I learned about team work. The spectators always saw the pilot as the star, but you have to realize all the team effort behind having that car and pilot out on the track: engineers, mechanics, designers, etc. Many would consider that the most menial job on the team was that of the guy who wipes your windshield with a squeegee when you make a pit stop. Well, let me tell you, when you are taking part in an endurance race, (six, eight, some times twelve hours) the sun goes down and artificial lighting goes on, and you depend on your headlights, the last thing you want is a smeared, glaring, greasy windshield at over 180 mph. Then you discover that this guy's little job can make a huge difference.”

Some linguists are prone to working independently and not together – a good example of how the independent work model fails is the federal government with regards to 9/11 and the mismanagement of intelligence. As we are aware of now, the federal agencies failed to share information and critical issues were not properly addressed. The same thing can happen in the language field when one linguist withholds information from another and consistency is compromised. Sharing linguistic references amongst teammates will save valuable time and avoid redundancy in research.

Just like a clock that has many individual parts, yet all of them must work together or the clock will stop ticking. Linguists need to embody the same notion and become team players. It is more essential now than ever in this shrinking and competitive world.
Written by: Scott Crystal, Senior Project Manager & Vice President of American Translation Partners.

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