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Leading Localization Teams in the Knowledge Era

Leading Localization Teams in the Knowledge Era

Last week I had the opportunity to attend in Paris the Game Connection week! Yay!



These events are a great opportunity to attend shows and demos of different publishers and it gives some insights about next steps of our industry. In the city of l’amour I could not only try amazing tender cheese, yummy!  Rich flavors French wines, double yummy! but also I could see the hype VR is creating, also I had the opportunity to see in a huge screen how awesome the new FIFA 17 from my ex- EA colleagues look. Very impressive the control movements of franchise players. Well done! You guys rock! (and I have very clear which it’s going to be my gift for my kids birthday next month :)

There was also a competition of Just Dance, Counter Strike etc etc, it’s great to see how big the video game industry is evolving and becoming more and more important …. And what about Localization? Is it also becoming something important? Of course! It was already something very important! Let’s not forget that Localization brings nice % revenue to videogame publishers! 


It’s great to see that there are presentations and panel discussions of different aspects of our Localization industry in events as important as the Paris Game Week.

I was invited by the event organizers to give a talk, and I happily accepted the offer! I gave a talk titled “How to lead teams Localization teams in the Knowledge era” and I had many questions about some aspects of my talk at the cocktail bar :) Therefore I thought it might be a good idea to use my blog to expand my thoughts and share with you bibliography used while preparing my presentation. I’m writing this whitepaper with a secret hope that this might help you in your management localization leading challenges :)

I focused my presentation on one area that we tend to overlook when we talk about Localization, that area is PEOPLE!! We can spend long hours or even days talking about best localization practices, how to create the perfect localization kit for our vendors, we can also have a passionate discussion about cost models and ROI of internal Loc teams’ vs outsourcing or we can be very techie and we can talk about how to integrate 3rd party API in our internal TMS

It’s great to have so many resources and ideas!!! … but, usually we forget to pay attention to people ... and to be honest this is something I don’t understand very well. As usually, most of the projects fail because of the people and the communication within team members and different stakeholders. Very rarely I’ve been involved in my 21 years of Loc career in a project that failed because of the tools or the processes. Yes, I have worked with very crappy glossary databases or very basic TM tools such as Wordfast Anywhere … but even in these cases the Localization results were good.

It’s true that it took us more time to deliver certain assets of the different components we were working, true that I did lot of tasks quite manual ….but ultimately deadlines were met and quality delivered conformance to requirements … and according to Mr. Philip B. Crosby  then I can be happy of how I manage the project … so, in my opinion, people is the most difficult component to integrate in the Localization process, we (humans) are complex creatures with complex reactions to complex (or easy) situations … we are random and we can behave totally different in our relationships with other team members depending on many many external factors … .therefore with these precedents, I think it’s very important to focus on how to lead Loc teams. This might help us to answer tortuos questions such as how do we lead our teams? How do we motivate them? Grow them? Empower them?

And the reality is that leading teams nowadays is complex. There are new generations arriving the workforce, globalization, people that might work from all over the world and dilemma of Management 2.0 techniques vs Management 3.0 techniques


Before going deeper in my thoughts the first concept I want to cover in today’s post is the definition of knowledge era (and creative workers). Knowledge worker has been a concept that it has been around for a few decades now.

Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. Examples include software engineersphysicianspharmacistsarchitectsengineersscientists, public accountantslawyers, and academics, whose job is to "think for a living"

The term was first coined by Peter Drucker (1959) in his book “Landmarks of tomorrow”

Peter Drucker, which in my opinion is best management guru of the 20th century already elaborated this definition of Knowledge worker a few decades ago.  He suggested that the most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity. He was a real visionary. I cannot agree with him anymore.

Now, this definition of knowledge worker is almost 60 years old, and I believe it becomes a little bit obsolete.

Now knowledge workers in the localization game industry evolved to an organism more complex to lead, knowledge workers of the 21st century has evolved to become creative workers!!!

Knowledge worker and creative worker might be similar, but in fact they are different because creative workers work nowadays in the creative economy and they collaborate in networks, not in hierarchies.

A creative worker is a person who creates or grows unique value within a network of people, or someone who creates or grows the network in an original way for others to share their value. Even better, it can be a person who does both! The term knowledge worker, on the other hand, implies that people add value only with their knowledge. It does not imply creativity or the ability to network.

When you think about this, quickly we can realize that the gaming industry is a very creative industry, therefore it’s a perfect ecosystem for creative workers, game designers, developers, illustrators, artists …. and also for localization teams. Because we need to adapt our localization services to a more demanding environment who requires very short localization cycles with a great accuracy for example in the tone & the style of our translated files.

Knowledge workers, creative workers, continuous localization, less hierarchies in the teams, the reality is that the world now is quite different from the Localization world I knew when working for Microsoft Dublin localizing MS Project’95 and MS Office :)

On top of this you might be leading some Localizations specialists that they know more than you know in very specific areas, and that’s normal!!, because they are working in their field every day! … and nowadays specialization is an important concept, so how do you handle leadership in these situations?

In this post I’m going to share with you 3 principles that I have used during my latest years to lead localization teams. These principles might help you to answer these questions that I find relevant to lead a localization team

The first principle I want to share with you about leading in the knowledge area is empowerment

How can you empower you Localization team culture? 

Let’s start first with the why, as the great Simon Sinek recommends (start with why)           Why empowerment is so important? why do I want to empower my localization teams?Empowerment is a technique that I find very useful to lead teams nowadays. 

Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation, as well holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction

It’s a technique that I apply in my teams mainly for 2 reasons

•    The first one: It’s not to please them or to avoid discussions …. it’s because often they come up with better decisions than me. This might sound weird to admit …. However, I found that people usually make better decision related to their tasks or peer ideas when they talk and decide together …. 

•  The second reason it’s to ensure they are motivated and engaged. 

Motivation, engagement … those are important concepts that I would like to elaborate a little bit more. There are plenty of statistics measuring team’s engagement. I particularly like the survey from AON. This study shows an engagement quite disappointing for European employees we are almost fifty-fifty when it comes to engagement and motivation

I really believe Employee engagement starts with leadership and leadership starts with actually accepting the culture of your Localization team. That clash of cultures is something I experienced in first person a few years ago when I was working for Sulake. I don’t know if you are familiar with this company 

Sulake is a gaming company famous for making Habbo Hotel, the most popular game- community for teenagers. I was in charge of a localization portfolio in 12 languages and while working in Habbo I realized that engaging with my stakeholders it was trickier than in my previous companies. After thinking carefully, I noticed that most of the conflict it was coming about how the decisions were taken. I realized that my stakeholders at Habbo preferred a coaching/cooperative approach rather than other leadership style where the manager makes more decisions.

I think this was related because early in my career I’ve been working in companies from United States, France or Spain …. and there’s an excellent book When Culture collides from Richard Lewis that really made me aware of this issue. In this book Richard Lewis talks about the different leading styles and differences in culture between people (include graphics) … and when I saw the different graphics and behaviors he suggested I realized why I had less difficulties in agreeing with my team members from the States or Germany or France … and why I had more problems to find an agreement with my Scandinavian colleagues. And actually, this was a big problem! because Sulake is a Finnish company, with headquarters in Helsinki, this means that I had a lot of interactions with Finnish colleagues that they preferred a leadership style totally different to what I was used to ….


That was quite challenging, but I had an idea!!! and put something into practice that I learned in a meetup session a few years ago when I was based in Madrid working for Electronic Arts.

I attended a meetup workshop based on Management 3.0, and the key of this new management style is that it helps employees, it’s a management style more collaborative, it empowers employees. And that’s exactly what I needed! During this workshop I learned a few tools and techniques that I used from that moment onwards to lead my teams in a more engaging way.

Management 3.0 is a framework create by Jurgen Appelo, a famous Dutch writer and Agile practioner who created incredible resources to fill the gap between M2.0 techniques and M3.0 techniques …. 

The most revealing part from me is that finally I understood that nowadays from a leadership perspective in the knowledge era you don’t need to focus your attention to manage people, you need to manage the systems. This is weird, isn’t it? why do I have to manage the systems instead of the people? the reason is that they are the specialists! As I said earlier I have localization members in my team that they know much more than I know in certain areas, so I cannot help them to manage their work at a very detailed level, but I can help them with he vision, and definitely I can help them if I manage the system in which they are working.

And what’s the system? The system is everything that affects your localization team, it’s what the PMI defines as EEF. The system is everything that it smells corporative policies, for example how to pay your localization vendors, guidelines about how to hire your loc teams, work authorization systems, travel policies, localization cost tracking reports etc etc I learned that I was more effective if I work managing these barriers so my team can keep being productive 

Now, the question is: how do you manage the system?

There are different techniques you can use in the management 3.0 framework. Going back have to my previous example of working in Habbo with my Finnish friends I identified that different stakeholders were struggling with the delegation levels and the way decisions were taken. therefore, the way I had to manage the system in this specific case was to create a delegation board! Having a delegation board agreed created a framework and it was an effective way to manage the system.

You can find details about how play this game, videos, success stories and even the cards deck!

As a manager I believe I need to delegate as much as possible so my teams can grow so I can focus on managing the system or other areas.  Managing the systems also means working with the different stakeholders to eliminate or minimize bureaucracy, might be also a goal to reduce the number of unnecessary internal meetings, might be working with HR to get a budget for trainings etc etc, basically managing the system means manage the constraints to empower employees so they can release all their potential and creativity.

Therefore, if you see yourself in a situation a little bit stuck in terms of authority or delegation levels give it a chance to the delegation poker game! It helps to understand how to manage the systems more efficiently, maybe this game might help you as well! Definitely it helped me!

The second Principle I want to share with you to lead in the localization era is Engagement

How do you increase engagement with your localization team?

You need to build the relationship

Although I mentioned earlier that we are in a complex era, much complex than a few decades ago, there’s something that it did not change that much, people work better when they know better each other. It’s as simple as that. The chances that you get something done is much much higher when you build a strong relationship with your peers or with your team.

And the principles of getting a good relationship is the same that it’s used to work in the past. To build a relationship you need to communicate often and more important … you need to know your team.

Dale Carnegie explain these concepts brilliantly in his book How to win friends and influence people. The chances to get more support and help from different individuals is by getting to know them, you need to build the relationship with your localization team. I think this happens in all the areas of our life, the chances that one of my friends will help me will be attached to the level of trust we have in our relationship, and that relationship with my friend is built after years of being together and talking. I believe we should never underestimate the power of relationships. Another book that I really recommend to read is “Never eat alone”, in this book Mr Keith Ferrazzi gives a master class about giving and sharing. This was especially important for me to remember… because at a specific point of my localization career I was very naive and I thought that I could achieve great goals by working hard and being discipline (and work alone)…. and although discipline and hardworking are important skills, the reality is that another skill very important is the capacity to collaborate, to communicate to create synergies.

About the question about how I build relationship within my teams… To be honest I used many different techniques in my career from team building activities to workshops, but I realized that trust is not build in one day. You might have a great team activity going to a cooking class event or you can play the Escape room game or any other team activity available near you ….. and then, the following day trust is not there magically, trust doesn’t work like that, trust needs time, and the way I found to build trust and build relationships within my localization teams it’s the 1:1 and the personal maps. Let’s me explain first how do I do 1:1 and why I do them?


Different studies over the years shows that the single most important, and efficient thing that someone can do as a manager to improve performance is to spend time to know the strengths and weakness of your direct reports. Managers who know how to the get the most out of each individual member of the team achieve noticeably better results than managers who don’t. And the most efficient way to know your team is to spend regularly time with them …communicating with them.

People and their behaviors are what deliver results to any organization. Not the systems, not the processes, not the computers, not the machines. When I explain to some colleagues that I like doing 1:1 as often as I can usually there’s some skepticism. And usually I’m said one of these two things

1. I think I know my people very well actually

2. No need, I talk to my people all the time


When I think about this, some ideas come to my mind, try to do a personal map of the things you know of your direct.Personal maps are like a mind-map where you put what you know of your people. Different branches where you would be able to identify important things such as the names of their kids/husbands/wife, favorite food, hobbies etc etc, nothing super complex, it shows just the little things you know of the people that surrounds you … but after all, that’s how a relationship is built….. it’s based on little things. This exercise was quite embarrassing for me first time I did it …. I realized how little I knew about my team and my people even after being working with them for over a year …. I was not able to list more than 2-3 bubbles of things I knew about my direct reports; I was not even able to list the names of the children of the people who was reporting me!!!! This isn’t a conclusive exercise of course …. but it made me think ….in most of the cases when you ask people what goes first for them if family or work usually family will be go first … therefore I must admit I feel ashamed of not knowing at least the first names of their most beloved ones …. 

About the second point … we talk all the time … think about your direct report perspective, I, as a manager I might be sending them emails or I can drop myself in his/her desk and start talking about projects and different topics … but when I do that, please think again, this is not a bidirectional conversation .. I start the conversation and I start talking about MY topics, my topics from a management perspective. That’s not the more effective way to build trust, and trusting relationship with your directs is based on aspects that are important for them. 

Now, I covered why 1:1 are important in my perspective. Next topic is how we do them The key in the 1:1 it’s that the primary focus is on the team member, they decide about what they want to talk, I have 1:1 where people start talking about what they did during the weekends, while others they start talking directly about productions aspects. And that’s the beauty of the 1:1, the focus is on them, it’s not in me as manager, It’s not in what I need as I mentioned earlier. In a 1:1 the focus is on the team member. They decide how they want to start and what areas they want to cover.

Another aspect quite important is that 1:1 are regularly scheduled. This means that your team members know that they will have always some time available to discuss about their topics, you as manager might be busy, and direct reports maybe don’t find the right time to approach you. With 1:1 always happening the same day every week, at the same time it helps to create a window to discuss different topics. About the frequency …. And how often we should do 1:1. I tried monthly of 1 hours or bi-monthly … but to me it did not work that well as weekly, and the reason for this is that when I make 1:1 monthly then

Too much happens between one on ones. I talked earlier about the complexity of today’s world, everything nowadays is very fast, therefore talking about what’s going on once every month it might be not enough, or at least it was not enough for me. On top of this the building relationship progress is not the same when you meet every week or every month. But there’s another reason that I found very important when it comes to meet often vs periodically …. when you meet every month You miss the chance to get buy in on big decisions. If you are making a big decision or have a big announcement coming, the best thing you can do is shop it first privately. Then you can gauge reactions from the people you need buy in from most. If you can get them to come around, others will as well, and you will know the objections you need to overcome.

There are different ways to approach it, but in my experience the approach that better worked with me is weekly, 30 minutes

The Third and last about leading Localization teams in knowledge era is 

How do you grow the people?

I believe I have to think about how to grow the people of my team. And I personally like the Flow model where you have challenges in one axis and the skills in another. This model elaborated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains a theory very interesting about flow and growing people of the team. Mihaly suggests that we have different aspects to evaluate when we assign work to people. 

Don’t miss his TED Talk key note here!

He created this graphic that I find very useful, in this graphic we have different areas, different scenarios, therefore if I give a tasks very challenging to one of my localization team members, but he does not have the skills, I might create some anxiety and s/he might be nervous … but what if I give something to a team member that it’s challenging but this person is very high skilled … in this scenario he’ll be bored very easily, the scenario might be even worse when you have low challenges for low skills people … in this case we might have team members in apathy mode …. so this graphic is quite interesting to think about how to grow your team … 


The beauty of this flow it’s that’s there a sweet spot … where you are challenged slightly over your skills but it does not create a great anxiety because you can learn and get better. That sweet spot it’s what Mihaly call the flow moment.

My role as Localization Manager to grow my people is to put them as often as possible my teams in the flow quadrant …. and to be honest this is a never ending process because a team member he or she might start in the low quadrant but eventually she/he might move slowly to higher quadrant… and then again the performance of the people in that new area would be quite high and this person would not be in the sweet spot anymore … human learns and we get better and better at different stuff which is an amazing thing! but at the same time it’s quite challenging because it becomes a cyclic exercise. We need continuously calibrate skills and complexity to put as often a possible our people in the flow part.

For me the best part to juggle with the balls of complexity, challenge and skills is again during my 1:1

In the 1:1 I can talk to my direct reports to ask them about goals and different areas they want to work and I can find out more about their strengths and interests, so for example, if someone in my team is interested in exploring in which situations translation memories stop being our best friend … what I can make is a plan to grow this person, it might be attending a training, it might be by being backup of the main localization point of contact for a specific game or it might be by self-learning via books or self-exploring

Sometimes we might struggle to find the right balance of people skills and complexity and I found the Strength Finder techniques the most powerful technique I ever used. These techniques are based on the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 and nowadays there are also training providers who can help you run this test for you or your teams … I really like reading the book, for me it was quite eye opening as it changes the mindset of improving weakness to focus directly in the areas we are better. We all know that we cannot perform equally in all areas … but there are some areas each of us have tendency to be better … when you polish those natural skills you can be even better! Hooray!

This book talks about 34 different skills and it encourages you to come up with your top 5 of skills.

Therefore, when you know a little better your Loc team members and also when they know also better themselves, they can grow doing more challenging tasks. So for example, let’s imagine that we have a goal in our localization team to use a better tool to handle the glossary of our games. In this case I would need to assign this task to someone in my team who is a strategic thinker. Because this person has the capacity to think out of the box. Actually I have had people in my teams that they think as if there would not be any box at all!!!!, they are good at creating ideas, seeing the future and analysing data. The tasks of finding a tool to handle better the glossary of my games would be a perfect matching to someone in my team with these analytical skills…. but once the tool is selected if we need to talk to different stakeholders to explain why we chose this specific tool and how we are going to use it I would need in that case someone in my team with good communication skills. When we need someone to take charge, speak up, and make sure our localization group is heard, I have look for someone with the strength to influence.


During this post I used the word encourage several times. And actually this is a word that I really love. Because really as a Localization Manager is all that I can do. I can’t force my people to do anything, they are adults, they make their own choices but I can create an environment that encourage them to do these things and when I do these things wells then I’m effective leading my localization team

Remember it’s all about people, empower your localization team to build the relationship and make them grow. And remember to put people first! I found during my career that it’s pays off to invest on people.

Have a wonderful day and happy leading!



Bibliography used to create this Whitepaper

  1. Managing for happiness by Jurgen Appelo 
  2. Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo
  3. The Effective Excutive by Peter Drucker 
  4. How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie
  5. The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey 
  6. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
  7. When Culture Collides by Richard Lewis
  8. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's 
  9. Strenght Finder by Tom Rath
  10. Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Real Localization FC - A truly Dream Team

Culturalization is the KEY

Culturalization is the KEY