Per­sonal Trainer

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Ken Tay­lor on the role of the team leader

Als Ihr Per­sonal Trainer gibt KEN TAY­LOR Ih­nen Ex­per­ten­tipps, wie Sie Ihre Kom­pe­ten­zen im Geschäft­sall­tag verbessern kön­nen. Sein Ge­sprächspart­ner ist in­ner­halb eines eu­ropäis­chen Ber­ater­ver­bunds u.a. für die Or­gan­i­sa­tion und Ko­or­dinierung von Train­ings für Leiter in­ter­na­tionaler Teams aus ver­schiede­nen Branchen ve­r­ant­wortlich.

Di­eter Walther: I think it’s good to share ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences with other peo­ple who train in­ter­na­tional teams and team lead­ers.

Ken Tay­lor: I agree. In­ter­na­tional team lead­ers of­ten have to deal with chal­leng­ing and dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions.

Walther: They cer­tainly do. One difficulty is that in­ter­na­tional teams usu­ally use English as their work­ing lan­guage. Of­ten, most, if not all, the team mem­bers speak English as a sec­ond lan­guage. If their for­eign lan­guage skills are lim­ited, this can cause real mis­un­der­stand­ings for the whole team. Tay­lor: It’s very im­por­tant that the team leader feels con­fi­dent in the team lan­guage. These lan­guage skills need to be checked be­fore the team is formed.

Walther: An­other chal­lenge can be the cul­tural dif­fer­ences. Ex­pec­ta­tions about the team’s work prac­tices and de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses may dif­fer con­sid­er­ably. For ex­am­ple, there may be cul­tural dif­fer­ences con­cern­ing the role of the leader of team meet­ings. In some cul­tures, peo­ple ex­pect highly or­ga­nized meet­ings that start punc­tu­ally and have clear de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses, end­ing with who does what by when.

Tay­lor: And oth­ers pre­fer a more laid­back ap­proach, where the meet­ing is seen as a place to dis­cuss ideas, not as a de­ci­sion-mak­ing fo­rum. The de­ci­sions are taken else­where. These dif­fi­cul­ties are even more ex­ag­ger­ated when the team is work­ing re­motely.

Walther: So the team leader has to be aware of these po­ten­tial dif­fi­cul­ties when cre­at­ing the right team cul­ture.

Tay­lor: This places a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity on the lead­ers of in­ter­na­tional teams. What are the qual­i­ties they need?

Walther: Choos­ing the right per­son to be team leader is crit­i­cal. In any team, but es­pe­cially in in­ter­na­tional teams, they need to have a high level of so­cial com­pe­tence and to be very clear, ca­pa­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tors. Their so­cial com­pe­tence helps them act as con­flict man­agers and their good com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills en­able them to con­vey clearly the team’s tasks and the tar­gets.

Tay­lor: It’s best if the tasks and tar­gets are writ­ten down, so there is less chance of mis­un­der­stand­ings oc­cur­ring.

Walther: I also sug­gest that each team mem­ber should have a writ­ten de­scrip­tion of their role and their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the team.

Tay­lor: That’s a good idea. And these can be re­vis­ited later on as the team­work de­vel­ops.

Walther: The leader should also com­mu­ni­cate the team’s achieve­ments, both in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally.

Tay­lor: That’s right. It mo­ti­vates peo­ple when they see that their team is suc­cess­ful.

Walther: And it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple out­side the team know what’s hap­pen­ing, too. It’s the team leader’s job to keep key stake­hold­ers in­formed, es­pe­cially the stake­holder who set the team up in the first place.

Tay­lor: Yes, the team needs a good re­la­tion­ship with the stake­holder who ini­ti­ated the team. This per­son can help pro­mote and de­fend the team within the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Walther: Es­pe­cially to make sure that fund­ing is avail­able and, when needed, that ex­tra time is given to the project. Tay­lor: The team leader also needs to be a good fa­cil­i­ta­tor and mod­er­a­tor — mak­ing sure the var­i­ous meet­ings work ef­fi­ciently. And, at the start of the team­work, get­ting agree­ment on how the team should work to­gether.

Walther: This is vi­tal when dif­fer­ent cul­tures and per­sonal styles are in­volved.

Tay­lor: We’ve talked about the team mem­bers’ dif­fer­ent cul­tural back­grounds as a po­ten­tial prob­lem area. But wouldn’t build­ing a strong team cul­ture help over­come this?

Walther: Yes. Here, the team leader is cru­cial. Team lead­ers have to lead by ex­am­ple — and become role mod­els for the rest of the team. It also helps if the team leader has a per­sonal stake in the suc­cess of the team. This might sim­ply be that the team leader sees this par­tic­u­lar project as a step on their ca­reer path. Or they might have a per­sonal in­ter­est in the project area and have been ad­vo­cat­ing projects of this type in the past.

Tay­lor: This means being sen­si­tive to cul­tural is­sues but also being aware that each in­di­vid­ual has their own per­sonal style, strengths and weak­nesses. As team leader, you don’t have to like ev­ery­body, but you should ap­pre­ci­ate what each mem­ber has to of­fer and how they pre­fer to be treated. Walther: I use an as­sess­ment tool called So­cial Style, which helps in­di­vid­u­als re­al­ize how they are seen by oth­ers, how they see them­selves and how they can best co­op­er­ate with each other. It helps teams avoid in­ter­per­sonal con­flicts.

Tay­lor: I use the same tool in my work. There are sev­eral such tools avail­able. I rec­om­mend that any new team take the time at the be­gin­ning to work on un­der­stand­ing each other’s ap­proach to work — and life.

Walther: An­other key as­pect of cre­at­ing a good team cul­ture is the use of feed­back. The leader needs to en­cour­age an at­mos­phere of open feed­back between them­selves and their team and among team mem­bers…

Tay­lor: …with plenty of pos­i­tive feed­back to stim­u­late good prac­tice. Open feed­back loops also help the team learn from mis­takes. Walther: That brings us to an­other im­por­tant role of the team leader — that of coach. Tay­lor: This means as­sess­ing the skills that in­di­vid­ual team mem­bers lack and sup­port­ing them with prac­ti­cal ad­vice on how to over­come any weak­nesses.

Walther: How­ever, team lead­ers have to re­mem­ber they are not ex­perts in ev­ery­thing. That’s why they have a team. The team mem­bers should have been cho­sen because of their ex­per­tise in cer­tain ar­eas.

Tay­lor: Nat­u­rally, the leader should have a good gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of the busi­ness. But their job is to lead the team, not to be the top ex­pert.

Walther: In fact, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, if you have the top ex­pert as the team leader, it can of­ten kill the whole team’s mo­ti­va­tion and cre­ativ­ity — ev­ery­thing is left to the leader.

Tay­lor: Lead­ing in­ter­na­tional teams is cer­tainly a de­mand­ing job, but when a team works well to­gether, it can also be highly re­ward­ing.

Walther: More and more or­ga­ni­za­tions work with in­ter­na­tional teams and those or­ga­ni­za­tions need to re­mem­ber some­thing: good in­ter­na­tional team lead­ers don’t grow on trees! They need to be de­vel­oped and trained.

Tay­lor: I couldn’t agree more!

“Team lead­ers have to lead by ex­am­ple and become role mod­els”

DI­ETER WALTHER set up and co­or­di­nates the work of Euro­pean Man­age­ment Part­ners (EMP), an in­ter­na­tional net­work of train­ers and con­sul­tants. Part of his work has in­volved or­ga­niz­ing train­ing for in­ter­na­tional teams in dif­fer­ent types of or­ga­ni­za­tions and in a va­ri­ety of busi­ness ar­eas.

KEN TAY­LOR is a com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sul­tant, per­sonal coach and au­thor of 50 Ways to Im­prove Your Busi­ness English (Sum­mer­town). Con­tact: Ktay­

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