Question: What do you find most challenging about working with a group?
I find working with diversity in a group challenging and rewarding.
The ExxonMobil environment encapsulated into one word is "diversity." My conservative Chinese background coupled with ExxonMobil's extremely diverse groups of people, with different degrees, ethnicities, and positions have created continual challenges. We work in hostile, remote environments, with life threatening operations and materials (e.g., radioactives), under long working days and strict deadlines. Each member is crucial to an operation; a small failure can lead to financial costs of billions, market share erosion and most importantly physical harm or death. Therefore, significant pressure exists to ensure efficient group processes.
In the field, where a team comprises of executives, engineers and the "muscle-men" rig operators, speaking a common language to connect, understand and maintain respect is important. Everyone's objectives are aligned and a sense of confidence instilled even amongst those most different. Although I struggled initially, I slowly devised strategies to manage diversity including ensuring clarity of communications, holding meetings, and supervising effectively. I standardized daily operations reports while working in remote locations to ensure support from higher management even in emergencies. During conflicts, I acted as mediator to relate to the rig crew, engineers, client and ExxonMobil management.
Due to complexities associated with group decision-making amongst a diverse group, where each person is crucial to safety, our team faced difficulties involving appropriate people in decision-making. Hence, I identified at initial stages of group operations the roles, capabilities, and weaknesses of each member through external social interaction.
In dealing with diversity, values of individual group members will be different. I was required to be flexible in changing priorities of work and life balance depending on deadlines for projects where as my Mexican counterparts gave equal priority to both at all times. As a result, strong emphasis was placed on efficient processes, achievable deadlines, and effective project management.
In the male dominated oil industry, I recognized my uniqueness. Many times, I was the first female member, leader or supervisor that my group had worked with. Initially, I proved credibility and influenced people at strategic points. I utilized interpersonal, relationship-building skills to resolve emotional conflicts while incorporating technical strengths to gain confidence. I depersonalized machismo remarks of male members, responding with professionalism and strict command over project issues.
I adapted to different demands of diverse managers while accommodating varying needs of other team members. I have worked under seven managers within five years, typical at nMobil where international employees frequently change assignments. Identifying different work styles and motivating factors of team members, which varies substantially from one culture or individual to the other, is critical in such an environment.
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