How do you get a bunch of lone wolves to work together? The secret, of course, is that wolves are actually not lone wolves by nature, but run in packs. So what to do to bring out that sense of community in order to reap the benefits of team vs. individual? No worries, this is not going to be a National Geographic-type article on Canis lupus (although that could be fun). Neither are we going to vilify translators as the evil wolf that devours little red riding hood and other innocent beings. What we want to talk about is the psyche of the translator team, since even though the translator’s work tends to be somewhat “lonely” and autonomous, there are plenty of situations where teamwork is required and project managers need to conjure up that sense of pack or team spirit in their selected group of lone wolves.
In the realm of translations, different constellations require the formation of a translator group, some short-term, some long-term, some with several translators in the same function, some with a more distributed role pattern. One of the most common scenarios is the combination of translator, editor, and proofreader in each language pair on a specific project. Although it might seem that the different roles call for different personalities, translators often work in all three capacities, which can complicate the selection process. Larger projects will multiply that number and require an even higher level of cooperation, since terminology, style, and similar linguistic details must be coordinated in order to be consistent.
Some translation agencies will build on the psychological factor that the sheer fact of knowing your work will be checked by your peers is going to produce better results. While that might be true, positive comments by the reviser team will do even more to motivate you to do your best. The rules of constructive criticism clearly apply, and problems may arise if the original translator gets the feeling that the editor or proofreader is yielding the red pen the way an all-too-powerful teacher would. While a certain sense of competition can be a driving force, too much competition will create bad blood and counteract cooperation among the team members. This is especially tricky if the individual translators and revisers within one team have to compete for assignments in the framework of a larger project, i.e. if they have to split a pool of daily or weekly jobs but still complete them with the consistency of a well-functioning team.
Howl with the wolves
Vulnerabilities are easily exposed and egos run the risk of being injured – open communication is the only way of reconciling and managing project and emotions. The possibility of chats via Skype and other portals create a modern “office” atmosphere in the best sense, nurturing relationships between team members and giving them an opportunity to coordinate assignments, discuss vocabulary, and simply but effectively connect on a personal level. Project managers have the opportunity to oversee and mingle with the team members, setting a tone that is focused, friendly, and cooperative. The same goes for communications via email and comments in smaller projects. Truth is, while linguists enjoy the concentrated and independent setting of their work, they do long to be part of the pack as well. It might mean that they have to fight their natural instinct to always be the first, and the best, in order to accommodate for the team experience and appreciate everyone in their respective role. Yet, if they find a leader who will see to it that they don’t get hurt but thrive in their group of peers, they will produce team gold in every project.
Nanette Gobel, M.A.
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