The Plus3 Project taught me a lot about teamwork in a virtual and multicultural setting. I got the opportunity to work with team members from multiple different countries and approach a consulting case for a business outside of America with unique cultural and geographical demands. I felt that I was able to take away a lot from this experience regardless of any challenges due to the virtual setting and inability to travel during the pandemic and am very glad I participated in this opportunity.
Throughout this experience, I learned about how to facilitate team productivity in a virtual setting and the challenges to connecting online. Communication is typically considered to be made easier by technology. In a sense, our project was made possible by technology as we could only have it over Zoom given the pandemic stunting any potential travel. However, this was a double edged sword because technology also severely limited our development of team trust and connections which I believe are essential products of meritable communication. Building relationships was extremely difficult over the Zoom platform, in particular, I was not satisfied with the association that we were able to form with the client.
Our group had very limited time with our client directly with our client time adding up to a maximum of a mere 25 minutes. I know this was very hard for many members of my team, particularly my Brazilian and Columbia’s counterparts. Personally, I feel as though I could still present a satisfactory solution without a bond with the client, but my teammates felt the need to establish a connection before starting work. I touched on the cultural differences that fostered this in my first blog. Thus, I would say one of the worst limitations of Zoom was our inability to truly understand and establish a connection with our client. This can have implications like team members feeling uncomfortable or not confident presenting a solution or us misinterpreting or not identifying the company’s pain points. However, these struggling client meetings taught me an important business skill.
An important thing in the consulting industry is to make your client feel comfortable in you and trust your potential to deliver solutions. Regardless of the previously mentioned difficulties, our group had to do everything it could to overcome Zoom or time barriers. Personally, I learned how to facilitate discussion with a client. For example, when to thank them or when it is overkill and bordering insincerity by listening to everyone asking questions during the main session. Furthermore, I got a sense of what questions were relevant to the project from professor NAGAI’s lectures, so that I didn’t ask the client clearly irrelevant or obscure questions that could create doubt as to our team’s understanding of the project’s focus. As I want to go into the consulting industry, being able to establish the project scope and evaluating relevance is essential to my future career. However, beyond that learning this analysis skill, I learned how to put myself out there during a client conversation to make everyone comfortable and relieve awkward silence.
In general, I consider myself an ambivert. It’s often a coin flip whether I will be comfortably extroverted or awkwardly introverted. However, throughout our client meetings and breakout room meetings, I learned to sacrifice my personal comfort in order to facilitate discussion and make everyone feel more comfortable. I think this is really important for teamwork in any group setting. Going out of your way to make others comfortable can lead to further solutions because it creates an open team culture. Thus, I am glad that I got more experience facilitating discussion in virtual times in which communication is more awkward and fragile because it will become easier in real life when people can’t hide behind muted mics and gestural cues serve to make people more comfortable and willing to talk in person. It’s sometimes best to learn a skill in the worst conditions to become a master of it in less tumultuous circumstances. Having done this over Zoom, I feel confident that I could bring this skill into my workplace or even in academic life in which I often work on Zoom. If I had to explain this project in a professional interview, I would touch on developing this facilitation skill because I feel it is good experience for client facing roles.
Beyond that, I might add that I learned to collaborate with a multicultural team while accounting for cultural differences in demands like level of team and client bonding. Furthermore, I might argue that I further developed a sense of the importance of setting team deadlines to accomplish the project on time. At the start of the project, my team had many ideas but no deliverables were actually getting completed. Eventually, I realized that I needed to help the team decide and set hard deadlines in order to motivate the team to actually translate our ideas into deliverables. For each of our solutions, I asked our team members what their schedule was and helped them come up with a reasonable self deadline. This made my team finally productive, and all of a sudden we had our ideas being executed such that we had material to present to the client. In a similar line of thought, I realized in the beginning of the program, we talked a lot about ideas but never assigned someone to complete it. Thus, I figured out that someone needed to take initiative during the breakout rooms and screen share so we could divy up work or collaborate on projects that are whole team activities. For example, we spent the whole first and second weeks discussing the need for a process map without ever creating it. Finally, I decided to screen share and ask members to help me develop it in our breakout rooms. Making this process map was the first step to figuring out what ideas we wanted to implement and I could help my team divide up to work from there. Thus, realizing when your team is being unproductive and taking measures like initiative to collaborate over screen share or setting informal deadlines is a critical skill to develop for the workforce. Given this, I would be sure to emphasize these project management type skills in any future interview should I choose to talk about this experience.
Overall, I had a lot of takeaways from this experience and learned a lot from the challenges of developing a multicultural team in a virtual setting. I think in aggregate, I learned a lot more about management within a small team, and cultural aspects that were relevant to group work, but I felt that we missed a lot of the cultural background in the Zoom setting. I think in the future, I will try to study abroad or work abroad and actually travel to the site (hopefully we don’t have anymore global pandemic barriers!) so that I can get a better sense of the actual culture of my multicultural counterparts. I think this program taught me that there was a lot of potential to connect with other cultures beyond group work, so I am definitely inspired to pursue this beyond this program and outside of the virtual setting.