It's all about teamwork - and there's no "i" in commitment...

Post date: Oct 25, 2017 5:12:33 PM

OK, so there is an "i" in commitment. I was just quoting the great Count Arthur Strong to get your attention.

Teamwork, however, can be a genuinely challenging issue for interpreters who are used to working alone or in pairs, and who tend, in general, to be highly educated professionals with firm ideas about their capabilities and status (I put my hands up to that one, as they say in football). So when it comes to working in a team, often with colleagues who would otherwise be competitors, some interpreters find it difficult.

Having one's work observed, critiqued or even corrected by a peer or senior colleague when working in a larger team is the first major obstacle. Some interpreters hate being observed by anybody other than a single booth-mate or working partner. This may appear paradoxical, given that we are always performing before an audience of some kind. An audience of non-interpreters, however, will respond very differently from somebody who specializes in managing and evaluating interpreter performance. Unfortunately there's no way around this for any professional who is generally committed to improving their performance - you just have to do your best, suck it up, listen to the feedback, and act on it so you can improve in the future. You also have to manage the stress of being observed and evaluated, but that sounds like a different post altogether.

Another area where interpreters sometimes have difficulty working as a team relates to their instinct for self-preservation and self-protection. When working alone or in a pair, one has only oneself and/or one other person to look out for. Working in a team of, say, fifteen interpreters as part of a nuclear plant safety review changes this particular ball game completely: I work with my buddy, whom I know and respect, all day long, so I will certainly help them out in a crisis. But how far am I prepared to put myself out to support every single colleague in the team? Am I so terrified of being forced outside my comfort zone that I always hide when extra duties are on offer? Are there some people whom I can't stand, or whose competition I fear, to the extent that I would drop them in it (for example by omitting to help them out with terminology, or by not stepping up to help them in a difficult situation in the field, or by finding an excuse to have them replace me for a stressful meeting)? Sometimes, unfortunately, if we are being honest, the answer to any or all of these questions is "Yes". It's hard to put yourself out for everyone, when you may not even know them that well, and it may sometimes be tempting to keep your head (and your hands) down when you know you could volunteer to help a colleague out.

For better or worse, however, helping colleagues out and working effectively in a team is part of what being a professional is all about. Every single colleague should be on the lookout for ways they can help out the team, and support the overall smooth running of the assignment. I wouldn't expect people to go beyond their capabilities - that's also an important part of being a professional, after all - but I would expect everyone to pull together, which may on occasion involve stepping outside their comfort zone (which can also be useful in terms of professional development). I certainly wouldn't be impressed if someone were to deliberately swap out of a meeting on a fabricated excuse, forcing a colleague to do their work for them. I can't think of many such egregious examples of this kind of "easy ride" culture. But I can certainly think of a few.

So next time the opportunity arises to show your commitment to the team (regardless of whether there's an "i" in the word or not), be a professional, and take it. It may be an enriching experience in professional terms, and in any case helping out a team mate (and your team leader) should bring you a warm glow of satisfaction. It will certainly stop me grumbling at you about it.

See below for a blatant example of one person propping up an entire team...