I visited Brisbane, Australia as part of the Global Consulting Practicum (GCP) program. The GCP connects five students from Wharton and five students from a partner university to work on a real-life consulting project for a client based outside the US. In our case, we partnered with the University of Queensland (UQ). I certainly learned a lot content-wise and picked up many more life lessons.
We started out strongly in January, delivering a well thought out work plan to our client and establishing relationships with each other and our UQ colleagues. However, we soon experienced difficulties. Separated by distance, we relied heavily on Skype and email to coordinate our activities with unsatisfactory results. Deadlines slipped. Motivation levels dropped. Team members began to have other priorities. Differences formed about what the best approach to take should be. Decisions were stalled. In short, it truly seemed like we were heading for disaster.
I was puzzled by how quickly things had degenerated. Prior to Wharton, I worked in numerous cross-cultural multi-country teams before with few issues. Why was this project so different? Was the team dysfunctional? Or was it because of external factors like distance, time-zones, and changing expectations from our client? After some reflection, I was able to pin it down to a few things.
1. Stick your neck out
Leadership is hard. Very hard. It’s a lot of work and it’s lonely. But somebody’s got to do it. I did not volunteer. And at least on the Wharton side, we also did not appoint a clear leader who would speak for the group. Instead, we divided various responsibilities among ourselves. As a result, there was really no point person who could provide an overall direction.
2. Speak up and out
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. With a large team separated by some distance, there is never really such a thing as over-communicating. Just as important is listening to people. As we progressed through the project, I realized that I was dominating the conversation at times. As difficult as it was, I tried to take a step back and encourage my peers to speak. Voila! Engagement increased. Surprisingly, team members were also more accepting if their ideas were turned down after they had been given a chance to talk about it.
3. Follow the chameleon
We had a client who changed his mind every few weeks about what he expected us to deliver. This was frustrating for everyone and we struggled to regain our footing each time and map out a new strategy. I am sure many of you work in client-facing roles and have experienced this. I am curious to hear your own thoughts on this.
4. Keep your eyes on the big picture
When you are lost in the weeds, its difficult to keep your eyes on the big prize. And so it was true for us as well. Individual team members would work on different pieces of the puzzle which sometimes did not fit with the group’s overall thesis. Not wanting to have the work go to fast, the entire team would spend additional time trying to fit the puzzle together even if the pieces never matched.
So what became of our project? With two weeks to go and the presentation still in bad shape, we undertook a deep and brutally honest examination of where we stumbled and what we could do to salvage everything. Tempers flared. Egos were pricked. We were all under the microscope. It was time to roll up our sleeves, scramble and rely on our adrenaline to see things through.
And see things through we did. Our client was incredibly pleased with our work and every aspect of the project came together wonderfully. We had pulled off a minor miracle but that only came about because we were willing to look at ourselves in the mirror, identify all our faults quickly and make rapid changes while there was still time.
The GCP was a fantastic culmination to my first year as an MBA student at Wharton. It was a painful process to be sure but I picked up important lessons that I hope will stick with me throughout my career. And even better, I have made some amazing friends for life. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
One of the reasons I chose to participate in the GCP was to get an idea of what consulting might be like (granting that the GCP is an academic program and may not simulate the consulting experience completely). Although I enjoyed the process, I decided consulting was ultimately not for me and I enjoyed what I previously did which was emerging markets private equity.
Amrith Krushnakumaar is a second year MBA student at the Wharton School. Prior to Wharton, Amrith worked for nearly six years at 57 Stars, an emerging markets focused private equity firm. At 57 Stars, Amrith was responsible for helping lead and execute investments in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Turkey. Amrith graduated from Duke University with a Bachelor of Science degree with Distinction in Computer Science and Economics, and a Minor in Mathematics. He also holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. In his spare moments, Amrith enjoys travelling and landscape and action photography. He is fluent in Tamil and has a working knowledge of Hindi.