As we finish off another week of the PLUS 3 Global Project, I can’t help but reflect on the time I’ve spent so far. As we near the final week of the program, all of the teams are in full work mode as we prepare our project reports and presentations for the final case competition. At the same time, the wonderful teams at campus b and Pitt had a plethora of engaging and highly informative sessions planned for the whole week, topped off with a mock presentation today. Overall, I’ve faced more challenges with and also discovered some benefits to working virtually, I have continued to work on building trust with my team and client, and have been learning a great deal about the various dynamics involved in a team project such as this.
So far, I’ve had a plethora of mixed experiences with working virtually. Working in a cross cultural team virtually has certainly created some barriers that I needed to overcome. Firstly, being virtual means that we are all in different time zones. This on its own slightly complicates finding a mutually convenient meeting time. However, being cross cultural also means that some of us are on summer vacation while others (namely my South American teammates) are right in the middle of their school year. Not only does this further limit when we are able to meet as a team outside of the scheduled sessions, but it also affects the distribution of work among the team. So far, the skill I have had to use the most in order to maintain clear and inclusive communication virtually has been active listening. In a virtual setting, whether that be zoom, email, or WhatsApp, it can be extremely easy to zone out or not fully absorb everything that is being said. This lack of focus is exacerbated by the fact that is difficult to read non-verbal cues through a zoom meeting. I found that sometimes we would end up repeating each other over and over when discussing our project. I had to be extra focused on being an active listener to make sure that I was fully understanding what my team members were saying. When I actively listened, I found that our meetings went much quicker and we were also getting more work done at the same time.
Despite these difficulties I’ve encountered while working with my team so far, I have to acknowledge the many benefits of virtual work, especially in the context of the current state of the world. Although it may appear as though we are finally at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize this is not the case in every part of the world. Because of the especially virulent nature of this virus, if even one country has a surge in cases or is struggling to control outbreaks, the rest of the world is put at risk. In a sense, this pandemic has brought the entire world closer together, and I would like to think my empathy for those I have never met is at an all-time high. Working virtually is the only responsible and safe way to be able to collaborate with my team members in South America at the moment. It may have its limitations, but it is still incredibly rewarding to be able to have a face-to-face discussion with my teammates, who are spread across the US, Colombia, and Brazil. Another positive is the efficiency of communication. In my opinion, because everyone is aware that we are communicating virtually and thus are not able to fully read nonverbal cues, we are all making an effort to be more direct than usual whenever we communicate. As someone who grew up in a low-context communicative environment, this compromise makes it much easier to understand my team members. Being virtual also means that we have an extra level of flexibility in meeting times. If we were in person, we might have needed to take commute times, familiarity, and other factors into account when deciding on a meeting time. In our case, however, we can simply jump into a zoom call from the comfort of our own bedrooms. While this may cause some issues with focus and professionalism, it’s hard to overlook the extreme convenience this provides.
Building trust is a vital part of working in a team. Not only does it allow you to better collaborate, but you are able to learn more about the actual people you are working with. In the beginning of the program we learned about the various ways people of different cultures build trust. In the US, trust is built through tasks. I feel as though I can trust teammates after I’ve seen the work they produce, and how easy/hard they made the work process. However, in other cultures, including South American culture, trust is built through relationships. Often times they will want to learn more about each other as people before beginning to work as colleagues. As I began my work with my team, I saw this other method of trust building as somewhat tedious. However, as the program has progressed, I have come to greatly appreciate the role of relationship building in the process of building trust. Learning about the personalities, lives, and interests of my team members has not only made the entire consultation process much more enjoyable, but it has also taught me new things about different cultures. One of the ways I have been actively building trust with my team mates is through casual conversation. Rather than forcing ourselves to always be 100% focused, we allow ourselves to interject casual discussions into our workflow. Not only does this let us learn more about each other’s lives, it lets us add a little bit of fun and lightheartedness into the project. I’ve found that when everyone is comfortable and laughing, they work faster and communicate clearer. Another way we have built trust is by talking about our own lives. One of my team members spent 15 minutes telling us all about a big carnival his hometown hosts and about all of the awesome things it offers. Just the simple act of telling each other about our lives has brought us closer together and allowed us to see each other as people with lives outside the very limited time we see each other during the PLUS 3 global sessions.
Of course, being friendly and trusting is important, but it is equally important to make sure your ideas and inputs are heard and respected. Truthfully, I do not have much to say on this topic as I have not had any issues with voicing my opinions. Our team has built our brainstorming and work process around collaboration. We have a shared folder on Google Drive with an “Idea Dump” document where anyone can add any random idea they have. We then look through the document and, as a group, discuss and decide on what we want to incorporate into our solution. In the beginning of the consultation process we were very clear to articulate our goal of helping Marcia and Senior Concierge find comfort in their choice and giving them a path to move forward. By establishing a clear common goal in the beginning, we unintentionally created a nice synergy that has resulted in all of us having similar ideas and visions for the final project deliverables.
As the final week of the PLUS 3 Global Project approaches, I’m excited to put the finishing touches on our project, learn more about South American culture, and finally present our hard work to Marcia!