Teamwork: Japanese-style

Kyoto stollers on Hanamikoji

My Japanese clients often pride themselves on their teamwork, and rightfully so.

Both in work and non-work situations, I have witnessed incredible performances in team collaboration. In one extracurricular case, I went mountain climbing in the Nihon Alps with some Japanese business associates. The evening before our big trek up the mountain we lodged at a university shelter. Another Japanese group was in the shelter. There was a brief period of introductions and then very quickly the two groups agreed to share the cooking of dinner, divided up the separate food provisions, and went to work. That was one of the best improvised meals I have ever had.

Japan’s challenge (among several challenges) is to succeed when the teams are not mono-cultural. As part of the grand strategy to expand overseas, and with painstakingly slow (but inevitably necessary) liberalization of immigration policy, Japan’s teams increasingly will have multicultural makeup. When the teams are all-Japanese, building consensus is not so difficult, because most Japanese making up the team share the same set of assumptions going in, whether related to business culture or general culture. In contrast, when the teams are diverse culturally, the Japanese struggle with differences in communication and negotiating style. Many times I have listened to Japanese describe proceedings in a meeting as ‘heated’ discussion when having participated in the meeting, from my cultural perspective it was not ‘heated’ at all, just a frank, open discussion of viewpoints.

Globalization is here to stay. It will never be reversed. On the contrary, globalization will intensify. Accompanying it will be more and more cross-cultural encounter. And the need to understand the new rules of engagement. It is not a matter of running roughshod over culture but rather acquiring the skill-set and know-how to adapt in order to maintain competitiveness. In order to survive.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier