As the Plus 3 Global Project draws to a close, I have been asked to take some time and reflect on some of the key lessons that I have learned during this unique experience. If I were to write about everything I have learned from the last 3 weeks, I would be writing multiple blog posts! However, there are some main takeaways that I would like to share.
The first key lesson I have learned from the Plus 3 Global Project is about time management. A common problem for many people during the pandemic has been creating boundaries between work and personal life in a virtual environment. Despite operating under these circumstances for over a year now, I still find it to be an issue. There were times during the program where I did not properly set these boundaries for myself and ended up spending an excessive amount of time working on a part of the project. Not only did this limit collaboration between myself and my team members, but it also took a toll on my energy and motivation to do good work the following day. However, once I began explicitly communicating my schedule and sticking to the boundaries I set, I found myself being much more efficient when working. While working more may seem better, I found that if I simply sat down to work until a task was finished, I would be unfocused and distracted. I discovered that setting a specific time limit (e.g. 1 hour) and taking only that amount of time to work on the project allowed me to be more efficient and focused when working on my tasks. This lesson will prove to be important far into the future as virtual business communication will only become more common from here on out. It will be increasingly important to be able to efficiently and effectively complete my work while also maintaining and managing my time realistically.
The second key lesson I learned relates to cross cultural communication. I found that, while it may be tempting to simply jump into a project and learn about your team members as you work together, there are powerful benefits to taking some time in the beginning to learn about your team members as people first. Coming from the United States, I tend to build trust using task-based methods. I have always felt like it is easier to trust someone after I know that they can produce good work. However, this program taught me the benefits of getting to know a person outside of the scope of project work before beginning to do the project. Not only does it relieve some of the tension of working with people that you do not know, but it also teaches you about the personalities of your team mates, allowing you to better delegate and work together as a team. I am the type of person to want to immediately jump into a project as soon as we are given time to do so, but in this case that ended up being difficult. The Plus 3 Global Project had a very ambiguous goal at the beginning of the program, and I feel I could have better used my time in the beginning to get to know my team rather than wondering what exactly we were supposed to be doing.
Transferrable skills are one of the core reasons study abroad is such a powerful addition to our resumes as business students. Not only do they increase our competencies in important business processes, but they become valuable tools in our arsenal when we market ourselves to companies as we begin to look for internships and eventually full-time jobs.
A transferrable skill that I have gained by participating in the Plus 3 Global Project is virtual conferencing and collaboration competency. Every basic business worker can use google docs, MS Teams, and google slides. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a new reality of the modern business world: most jobs can be done remotely, and many people prefer to work virtually (and are more productive when doing so). There are many aspects of virtual work that I have learned more about through Plus 3. Firstly, I have learned how to better manage motivation and boundaries when working on a virtual team. When working virtually, maintaining work-life boundaries is an essential skill in order to be effective while also maintaining team morale. I have learned that setting specific meeting times daily, explicit delegation, and clear and concise messaging are key skills to employ when managing a virtual team. No one wants to feel like they have to look at work every time they check their phone, so it is important to only use messaging channels when necessary. Additionally, a good way to overcome the isolation of working alone is to schedule 1 hour “work-together” sessions, where team members can work on their individual delegations over a zoom call. This format encourages informational exchange and social interaction while also providing a concrete time to dedicate towards the project.
Another important transferrable skill I have learned relates to utilizing leadership on a team where managerial roles are not well-defined. The mentors for the Plus 3 Global Projects allowed us to choose our own team managers for the consulting project. While this allowed for some slight organization, it occurred so early into the program that none of us knew each other well enough to make an informed decision as to who should be manager. I learned over the course of the project that team leadership is much more than who is called “project manager”. Team leadership involves actively listening to the concerns and ideas of each team mate and making an effort to build their ideas into every team process. It is also about using your empathy to understand the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on your team (including yourself!) and delegating tasks to the members who are best equipped to do them. Finally, team leadership involves meeting your team mates halfway, learning about them as people, and respecting their work while also encouraging them to do their best. This skillset will be incredibly important in my professional life as I am unlikely to enter the business world in a manager position. However, that does not mean that I cannot be a leader in my teams, and I now feel much more equipped to inspire and perform as a leader regardless of my official role.
This project is something that I plan to heavily utilize when interviewing for future positions. Not only does the virtual nature (in the middle of a pandemic no less) provide a interesting set of business challenges, but the global nature of the project allows me to demonstrate niche communication skills that can prove vital in advancing my application. I would explain this project as an international 3-week consulting project in conjunction with a South American experiential educational organization. I would explain that I worked as a part of a culturally diverse team composed of students from the United States, Colombia, and Brazil to create a pitch presentation and project report for a Brazilian healthcare company. Our consultation process and project report centered around how to implement a new process management software into their business operations. Some challenges that I would be sure to highlight include the following:
- Working in a cross cultural team and navigating the different methods of trust-building and communication
- Managing 3 separate time zones and the academic schedules of my South American colleagues
- Working in an unfamiliar industry and within a foreign country’s market
Overall, I would pitch this experience as a transformative moment in my business trajectory. It taught me valuable time management, leadership, and collaborative skills while also exposing me to the consulting process. After participating in this program, I feel as though I have emerged with a broader cultural understanding and an intense interest in the field of business consulting.