Supporting foreign language workers in frontline teams

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One of the major limiting factors for multi-cultural teams is that business is conducted in English, at least in many western cultures. This can lead to communication challenges for foreign language workers where they are;

  • Team Members of the same team
  • Management of overseas teams/sites
  • Overseas suppliers

A 2011 survey reported that Health and Manufacturing were the 2nd and 6th most ethnically diverse industries in the US and UK. This is also reflected in Australian data, where the 2016 census showed:

  • 32% of employees in Manufacturing and Healthcare were born overseas
  • Workers from China and Vietnam are the most likely to have low levels of spoken English skills
  • People with low levels of spoken English skills are 4x more likely to work in Manufacturing than Healthcare

Training and instructions can be translated or communicated verbally. However, day-to-day frontline activities on the shop floor occur in a dynamic, fast-paced, high-velocity environment where there isn’t time to translate every detail. If these employees are not confident in communicating, then it may prevent them from raising an issue, discussing an incident, or logging an improvement idea. Yet it’s exactly these high-frequency activities that incrementally contribute to operational excellence.

The frontline’s understanding of organizational strategies, priorities, and processes is critical in engaging and motivating them to achieve and sustain outstanding levels of service and performance. Therefore, supporting foreign language workers in frontline teams is necessary.

Enabling technologies

These solutions can assist teams with people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

Speech to text

If written English skills are low, but verbal skills are good then mobile devices can assist dramatically. A little-known feature of both iOS and Android keyboards is the speech-to-text feature enabled with the microphone icon. No download required – this is a standard feature and will work with any app where writing is required. Check your phone’s keyboard and give it a go.

Animated example showing speech to text on a mobile device

Visual translation

Google Translate is perfect for digital documents, but did you know it also visually translates hardcopies? Take a photo of a sign, label or document that is in another language and this app translates it directly on your screen. This seems like magic the first time you use it. You’ll need to download the Google Translate app, but it’s free!

A phone with Google translate installed showing a road sign being dynamically translated

Two-way translation

For time-critical activities, which is often the case for frontline employees, seek out software that has built-in translation. This allows you to collaborate at the speed of business, keeps employees engaged and motivated (because they can do everything in their preferred language) and expands the possibilities with geographically separated locations (eg. an overseas site or supplier). The automated translations may seem stilted to a native speaker, however it’s suprisingly accurate and the meaning is easily understood. It’s a minor trade-off for real-time conversations across the language barrier.

A C.I. framework to maximise employee potential

Providing autonomy to individuals & teams requires systems that support decision making at every level – supported by the right data and at all times, aligned to strategy. To support individual Mastery requires systems that allow people to freely access the training & know-how they need to better themselves.

To provide individuals and teams with a purpose larger than themselves, they need a communication process that connects them & their toil routinely and specifically to the big picture.

The image below outlines how we designed an interconnected TeamAssurance platform which achieves these goals. One that avoids the locally optimised and disconnected ‘Point solutions’ (digital or analog) that do not help sustain either lasting business performance or maximising individual employee potential.

TeamAssurance Connected Systems Chart
TeamAssurance enables organisations to unlock employee potential at all levels through an interconnected platform. If you’d like to explore the opportunities offered by digital aids to Lean tools contact us for a demonstration.

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