Articles from Cass Knowledge

International Consulting Week to Vietnam

As an avid traveller with family in South East Asia, I’ve travelled fairly extensively in the region, although I’d never spent significant time in Vietnam. I was excited to see how it was different to other South East Asian countries and what it would be like working with a local company during our visit to Vietnam, on International Consulting Week.

The aim of the week was to give us real-world experiences working across cultures on a project with a local company.  We would be working with our company in Vietnam for just one week on a consulting project, giving a presentation at the end of the week and writing a full report after our visit. The projects on offer covered a broad range of theory we had studied in our first year on the MBA programme, giving us an opportunity to put what we had learnt into practice.

Tackling the challenge

A couple of months before our entire class headed to Vietnam, we were given a list of companies to choose from, along with an outline of the projects, and then had to rank them in order of preference. On discussion, different people had different approaches to this. Most seemed to choose based on industry, whereas I was looking at the projects in terms of type, e.g., marketing, organisational design etc. Despite this, I thought about what I wanted to achieve from International Consulting Week, as well as from the overall MBA programme, and decided to list Vietcombank as my number one choice. The reason being that I am already a consultant and I’d like to build my abilities and credibility outside of the specialist field I work in.  The largest company in Vietnam – Vietcombank – seemed in prime position to help me achieve this. The move to list Vietcombank in first place was perhaps slightly risky as I had no idea what we would be doing – slightly typical of the region, the project hadn’t yet been finalised. Still, having completed all core modules. I believed I would be able to tackle a broad range of problems.  I was also fairly comfortable that Cass would ensure that the project would be one that we could make a success of.

As ever, juggling the MBA while working full time is a challenge, and one of our team member lives overseas and has to deal with a time difference (travelling to London each month for our Modular Executive MBA weekends). This meant that we hadn’t been able to get together as an entire group, so we held our first full team meeting in Vietnam. On the plane journey to Vietnam, I had powered through the pre-reading and found it very helpful to put into practice some of the material we had acquired when first forming as a team. Soon after, we developed a plan for the first couple of days, focusing on ensuring that we really understood the problem, including what they wanted to achieve and the deliverables they were expecting.

We had just one week to take on to take on the project and deliver a solution to our client– meaning that we had a lot to do in a short space of time! When we arrived, we were fortunate that the people we were working with at Vietcombank spoke good English. We started our first day with our sole focus on fact finding – identifying and framing the problem. It turned out that Vietcombank works with a number of major global consultancies, so we wondered what impact we would actually have. There were certainly some cultural sensitivities we discovered working with people from a different culture.  Our project was based on helping Vietcombank understand its current and potential customers. We spent our first afternoon writing the scope of work, which we presented back to them on Tuesday morning to confirm that we had understood their requirements, and to ensure we were on track with what they were expecting.

Building on teamwork

What was most interesting to me was how we worked as a team. Whilst we we’re in the same cohort, most of us were new to working together and at times, it was fascinating how wildly different our interpretations were.  Whilst on paper we didn’t initially seem particularly diverse, it quickly became clear how differently we thought to one another. As a result, every so often we stopped and collectively discussed and agreed our interpretation, along with our approach and next steps. If we were still not in agreement, we clarified our understanding through our contact at Vietcombank. From there, actually completing the work was relatively straightforward as we had reached agreement about how we would proceed, and so we were able to define tasks fairly easily. Collectively, our diversity significantly added value, given the breadth of initial interpretation and different ways of thinking by adding extra depth and clarity to our work. We were always able to agree a way forward. Don’t get me wrong, we had our moments, but these were fleeting.  Our discussions were thoughtful and we always sought to understand the various points of view within the team.

As the week progressed, our work seemed to snowball. Vietcombank seemed to become more enthused about what we were doing. We interviewed members of internal teams and started to realise that our project had the ability to make a real difference to the bank. We were also sensitive to the fact that it was important we make a good impression to all those we interviewed to help ensure that everyone was involved and had agreed to what we were trying to achieve. Ultimately, our presentation ended up being moved from Friday to Thursday morning, as it was important to them the right people were in the room. This was very exciting for us and created the impression that we would generate positive change, it also added a huge amount of pressure.

We split into different groups based on our individual strengths and powered our way through to the finish line, working late to get our slides completed. We could have liked a bit more time to polish our presentation delivery, under the circumstances, we were all delighted with how it went.

The bank was genuinely interested with the insight it generated and how  they could take the project forward. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Vietcombank and an amazing opportunity for us.

Personal development

I learnt loads about myself through the project in Vietnam. Firstly, it gave me confidence in a broader range of situations, with a conviction that whatever the problem may be, I’m able to work through it. None of us were specialists in the specific project’s subject matter but we were able to give Vietcombank useful tools which could be implemented immediately. It also demonstrated how far we have all developed since we started working in groups on the programme and despite the pressure, we spent lots of time laughing throughout the week.

The shared experience I had with the rest of my team will stay with me.  It really helped me to appreciate the benefits of diversity within teams, including how to avoid conflict and harness the power of diversity, especially when under intense pressure.  In addition, it gave me a better appreciation of cultural sensitivities working in international business. Finally, the International Consulting Week also succeeded in consolidating everything I had learnt in the first year of the programme, giving me a much better understanding of what we are capable of, both individually and as a team.

Natalie Flood

Modular Executive MBA (2018)