What Makes a Good Working Relationship?

In this blog, Mark Cheetham, COO of a Swiss translation agency called SwissGlobal Language Services AG and Marie-Odile Domzalski, a freelance translator that specializes in working for the Swiss market, discuss how they work together and what makes a successful business relationship. Fiona Merwood, Senior Marketing Executive from SDL, asks the questions.

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FIONA: How long have you been working together?

MARIE-ODILE: Five years now. It was kind of a birthday yesterday! We started to work together in March 2012.

MARK: We both started off, in fact, as trainees at a former employer.

FIONA: Have you got examples of when you have to work together to overcome a challenge?

MARK: Oh, yes! I think that’s one of the reasons why we have such a good working relationship.

MARIE-ODILE: I think we’re thinking about the same client! Many years in a row, we had this annual report to translate for a very demanding client, and I remember that I spoke to Mark a few times a day about this project. How do you recall it, Mark?

MARK: Yes, exactly. It was an annual report that came every year; it was a demanding project for us, as we had to coordinate a large amount of work across many languages and tight deadlines. You’ve got multiple parties, problems with terminology and consistency, the agency doing the graphics, external providers and the various departments that have to go over the translations to make sure the financials add up in the end.

Marie-Odile worked on the translation into French and if I remember correctly did some proofreading of other French translations. It wasn’t just the work she was doing for us that was great, it also was her flexibility and creativity when we had to shorten certain paragraphs, for example, because it was too long and the layout didn’t fit anymore. So, she was extremely flexible and responsive in those terms.

However, what I felt was the most helpful in overcoming these challenges was just to have someone to speak to. You know, sometimes it’s almost more important to have a shoulder to cry on! It’s definitely a team effort and the team spirit that helps you to get work done.

MARIE-ODILE: For me, it was really important that I knew Mark was there for me because it was pretty hard on both sides. I think the most beautiful gift was that the client was happy in the end. It was teamwork and it was great.

FIONA: Tell us more about this project and how it worked…

MARK: There was another aspect. I think if you’ve got those kinds of challenges, you also have to use all the possibilities of modern technology that you have to hand. So, it could be that you have to retranslate something whilst you’re translating; then you’ve got your TMs which you can then use and you have to attach them to a new project so you don’t have to retranslate everything again. At SwissGlobal we, for example, use SDL Trados GroupShare and with GroupShare you can easily split up your documents, so you can then have multiple translators working on a file, and they’ve got the same resources in the background. And obviously, there’s other technology out there which can help.

FIONA: What do you need to help maintain a good working relationship?

MARIE-ODILE: I would say transparency is very important. If the PM is under stress, I appreciate it when the PM tells me. Respect – respect is also very important. I would say mostly no fake communication; real communication, a real relationship, as we’re dealing with humans.

MARK: I’ve got similar points. I’m entirely pro-transparency. I can’t trust or respect a translator who’s not transparent. For example, issues concerning the text, or perhaps, an issue with the timeframe, they need to contact me, the earlier the better. If they don’t do that and just disrespect the deadline without mentioning anything, it’s difficult for me to trust this external provider in the future. So, it’s like you said “fake communication" is a no go; I would say honest communication is a “must have" condition for any good relationship.

I would also say that it’s important you realize that there are real people involved in the whole translation process. In every relationship, it’s communication that counts the most. You have to respect that perhaps they’re under stress; they’re having a good day or a bad day. I think that’s the best way to go forward; in the end you just treat them like human beings and also treat them like you would like to be treated.

MARIE-ODILE: Yes, exactly.

FIONA: The agencies that you work for or with, do you feel part of the team?

MARIE-ODILE: Unfortunately, not in every translation agency, but in most of them, as I’m rather looking for long-term relationships. And with the ones I’ve been working for, for many years, I really feel part of the team; maybe not as if I were in-house, but almost. We say good morning every day; when I ask for a job, I say, “Oh, how was your weekend?" So, yes, I would say I do.

FIONA: When you receive a project how much do you ask for more information for clarification, versus making decisions to get things done quickly?

MARIE-ODILE: I would say that I am the kind of translator asking questions. When I’m not sure of something or if something is not clear also in the subtext, I prefer to ask rather than translating or understanding something wrong.

Also, if an instruction is not clear, I’d rather ask than having to correct everything in the end. I don’t want the PM to have extra work because of me.

FIONA: Is there anything else you’d like to add from the point of view of successful business relationships? For example using different tools, is that important?

MARK: Totally. Nowadays it’s crucial. I mean, if you only have private clients, it’s no problem; you don’t need to use a CAT tool. But if you’ve only got corporate clients like SwissGlobal has, with huge translation memories (TM) and termbases (TB) in the background, with high expectations, you have to be consistent. If you want to deliver the quality the client is demanding and paying for, you simply have to use the technology available.

Generally, I think there was a huge shift a couple of years ago – I would say perhaps five, six years ago, I’m not sure – where originally a lot of translators, said, “No, I’ll never ever use a CAT tool. My brain is the best central database for TM/TB." Those people have then come to realize that there’s a huge upside from the productivity and quality aspect and there is no need to be defensive towards the use of CAT tools. All the more since client expectations have grown considerably.

With a CAT tool, you can simply translate more to a higher and more consistent quality. I never quite understood why some translators didn’t embrace technology. They were afraid of the price falling, because they obviously have this whole context and perfect match discussions with PMs and vendor managers. But it’s also a huge advantage in productivity and quality terms.

It goes further. In CAT tools, you’ve got for instance the possibility to integrate InDesign or other XML formats without having to have the actual software. If you can translate within InDesign and the whole DTP (desktop publishing) work afterwards is a piece of cake. I firmly believe a good translator should be good with technology, because nowadays, it’s really the backbone of every translator.

MARIE-ODILE: Well, I see the future, as you say, using CAT tools. For me, it’s compulsory; you have to know those kinds of things. If you want to survive in this field and make the difference, you need to adapt.

Thanks to Mark and Marie-Odile for taking the time to take part in this interview and for sharing their experiences with us.

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