Consulting: Challenges & COVID (Blog 2)

Throughout the first half of the International Consulting Project with Trinidad and Tobago, we have gotten a sense of what our deliverables will be and what is expected of us from our clients in Nature Seekers. However, because we are just about halfway through this term of the ten year plan, we have already noticed a few areas of difficulty creating some issues for us. In Trinidad and Tobago, the day to day life of citizens, and even employees, is more relaxed than in the United States. In class we discussed the differences between task based cultures and relationship based cultures. Task based cultures are those in which business connections are shorter, less personal, and communication is simple and to the point. A few examples of task based cultures are the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Canada, etc. On the other hand, relationship based cultures are more personal. This means that initial focus will not be directed to the business and starting to work right away. Instead, clients will focus on getting to know one another and engaging in activities that build a friendship and a natural trust will follow. Examples of relationship based cultures are China, India, Brazil, AND… Trinidad and Tobago. You are probable wondering why I explained all of that instead of getting right to the point, but I feel that it is essential to note the different expectations and normal interactions our clients in other countries have compared to our own business culture in the United States. It is important because it is those cultural norms and differences that create a challenge, ESPECIALLY with the added difficulty of being virtual, because of the BIGGEST difficulty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the pandemic, the process of global consulting has become incredibly challenging as all interactions are done remotely and online. When we have our client meetings conducted over Zoom, we have to account for possible technology issues or factors out of our control. Specifically with Trinidad and Tobago, besides the capital of Trinidad, Port of Spain, the rest of the country is very rural resulting in poor connection and faulty wireless internet service. This has made communicating on Zoom with our client Nature Seekers quite difficult, when we already have limited “face to face” meetings. Also, because of Trinidad and Tobago’s lower levels of Internet connection, combined with our daily use of Zoom for classes, there is an inherent disparity in experience with the platform, which has caused confusion or slowed some meetings down. Our next, and primary, source of communication is via email. While email is great for follow up, because of the cultural differences in work urgency or emphasis, along with different phrasing, the messages can sometimes get lost. Relying on email to fill in the blanks opens up the possibility for a misunderstanding of terms, tone, meaning, and removes the possibility for immediate clarification. On top of that, it also creates a natural delay in information transfer, especially with lower connectivity levels in our host client’s country. Another one of our clients, the DORCA’s Women’s Group, is even more remote, and have even less access to a stable internet connection. Due to this obstacle that is out of everyone’s control, we have not been able to speak to them at all in the past two years of the ten year plan. Without a connection, or any way of communicating, it is hard to imagine a way to present solid deliverables that meet the needs of our clients.

My perspective of business is always changing every time I meet a new client or am put in a different situation with a client. While it is possible to take lessons learned from previous consulting experiences to the next, no situation will ever be exactly the same, allowing me to learn something new each opportunity I get. Taking this concept of business consulting outside of Pittsburgh and into the global space makes it even more of a challenge. Having a network of faculty perspective, all with experience, advice, and often just reassurances to offer in a global setting has been great to stay on track despite the challenges. Especially in a global business setting, the external factors are countless, uncertain, and most importantly: entirely out of our control. In past consulting projects for the Certificate Program of Leadership and Ethics, all of our clients have been centered in and around the Pittsburgh area. Global issues never truly got in the way of us being able to complete our deliverables and communicate effectively with our clients. However, with the Coronavirus pandemic it seems as if the world shut down overnight. Working with Nature Seekers last year as well, I was unfortunately never able to go in country and gain that first-hand cultural knowledge of business and leisure lifestyles in Trinidad and Tobago. Once again, the world has not opened up and we are participating in this international project individually from our bedrooms. Sort of like in theater and other performance based activities “the show must go on”. And with business, the same phrase applies. Due to funding, and consumer awareness, and missions or goals for the company, no one can afford to just press pause on operations because of the fear of shutting down. With global consulting, it is important to take what you can get in terms of communication lines, especially in rural areas like Matura and Matelot, because some information is better than no information. Global business is hard in itself due to the natural cultural and communication differences, but in a pandemic, it is even harder. Patience is a skill I think we have all improved on, as well as accepting what is out of our control, and instead focusing on what we have in front of us.

              Although this is only the second blog post, I believe the general outlook of our project has been pretty much defined at this point. A deliverable or some missing information are still not entirely clear to the group because of the unreliable internet aspect of virtual consulting, but our next steps are definitely doable. I am proud to say that no one in the Trinidad group is overwhelmed or entirely lost as we have learned throughout all of this to take it one step at a time, and more importantly one DAY at a time, because you never know when the world will shut down overnight.