The Leader As Team Translator
In any organization, our work teams are composed of many different departments, functions, and individuals. It’s important that all of these elements work well separately and together so that we can accomplish our organizational goals. This isn’t an easy feat when these different operations often have different specialities, training, goals, methodologies, and ways of communicating. The best leaders are able to find ways to align these differences in effective and productive ways. One of the most critical and nuanced ways that this is accomplished is through the leader acting as a team translator. This role is crucial in shaping group communication, interaction, and understanding.
Communication in the workplace can be seen as understanding the different “languages” of the organization and being able to effectively translate them for the team’s understanding. This is not a reference to a specific language per se, but more so to the norms of communication and understanding in different groups. Often the many departments or functions of our organization’s don’t speak the same language. Employees in finance have a different language than employees in HR, than in sales, and furthermore throughout the organization. When these different groups interact at work, the department specific language, wording, or norms can contribute to miscommunications and a lack of understanding.
If employees are unable to understand what they need from one another, the day-to-day operations can be convoluted and inefficient. If departments and teams are not communicating about achieving their goals in a meaningful way, there is a strong potential that some of these goals could possibly clash. This happens more often than we think and if we want to guide high performing teams, we have to help maintain a high level of clarity and understanding across our organizational functions.
This skill applies to working with customers and clients as well. It is our responsibility to make sure our client’s hopes, needs, and visions are translated clearly to the different parts of our team so we can make those goals into a reality. If those goals are translated poorly, we may find that our team is working towards a goal that might not actually be the goal of the client. Exactly how this message is translated and communicated can save or spend significant resources and ultimately affects client satisfaction.
To be an effective team translator, you must first understand the language of the person you are talking to. Anyone can simply repeat what they hear, but translating actually requires understanding the content and context of the message and then being to able to make sure everyone else can do the same. There are a number of things to consider when thinking about your ability to help translate in our organizations:
- Understand your employees and coworkers jobs on a technical level. If you know what your employees are saying in regards to daily tasks and implementation, you can connect other team efforts from throughout the organization. Your team can link concepts in ways that may have never been presented before by grasping the nuances of team specific language.
- Understand that different departments have different goals. For example, sales and Human Resources have entirely different purposes. Creating situations where the goals of both departments can be collaborated upon and met is essential.
- Allow employees to communicate with one another and seek to clarify understanding as needed. You do not have to babysit conversations, but there are points in time where intentionally adding extra information or context can be highly effective at informing the larger organizational strategy.
- Remind everyone that you are all on the same team trying to achieve for the organization. If people view the organization in terms of win and lose then the efforts across departments and teams may be stifled.
If we are able to translate for our teams effectively the results can be highly impressive. We can connect meaning through context to provide a clear line of sight for matching expectations and efforts. In doing this, people can truly understand one another and effectively collaborate instead of getting bogged down or distracted by miscommunication. Check out the following Leadership Lesson for more strategies on how to align the different functional areas of your organizations and teams!
Help your organization clearly define the expectations departments, teams, or committees have of each other so that they can develop a shared language and understanding:
- First ask each group to write down the expectations they have of themselves as a unit.
- Then, ask each group to think about all of the other offices or teams that they collaborate with on projects or events (sales, legal, design, engineering etc.).
- For each group, they should write down what they expect of them and their operations or performance.
- Leaders of these groups should sit down and share what was discussed. They should compare and contrast their own expectations with the expectations other groups have of them.
- As a leader, you may help facilitate a discussion to help get these groups on the same page about what is realistic in regards to these expectations by:
- Highlighting areas of confusion or contradiction.
- Asking groups to be more specific or to elaborate more on their needs.
- Refining and combining similar ideas or agreeing on shared understandings of those ideas.
- Resolving any misconceptions or falsehoods
- Creating new agreements between groups
- The results of these conversations need to be shared with the rest of the affected departments or teams. Processes or policies or culture changes need to be put into place and enacted to help support the agreements that were made between groups.
- Check in on these expectations on an agreed upon date. How have things changed? Has work and communication between groups improved or not? Why do we think that is? What else can be done to help improve the working relationships between these functions?
- Translating and aligning takes time, but when we can prioritize conversations like these between the different areas of our organization we become more effective, productive, and high performing teams.
*Meet the Author*
Joe Pazmany works with Leadership Inspirations developing training methods and experiential content. Joe has recently completed his Doctorate (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership with his dissertation focusing on how uncertainty impacts merger and acquisition integrations.