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: Ktaylor868@aol.com