Team-building in Japanese Culture

2018.12.09

Doing regular team building is so vital to a fully functioning team. It is important to assess where your team is and where it needs to go, as well as your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities as a team. But how does team-building fit into Japanese culture? In this blog post, we’ll give you the lowdown on teamwork culture in Japan, and what lessons emerge.


Social Dimensions of Teamwork

 

a) From Kindergarten…

Japanese culture values teamwork very highly and, as is highlighted often, Japanese society stresses the collective over the individual in many cases. While チームワーク may be a borrowed word, the concept itself has proliferated widely throughout different social levels. Social etiquette and rules of respect create standards of conduct, which lay the necessary groundwork for cohesive teams. This starts with the Japanese school system. Children spend a large part of their time with their homeroom class, developing a team framework. Collective responsibility is also fostered through the daily school cleaning assignments, and students are encouraged to participate in school clubs. Finally, school events, such as culture days and sports festivals–which are planned and executed by students–also help to create a teamwork-driven environment.


b) To Company

Corporate culture continues these habits, and there are similar attempts to create a structure for team-building. Offices are designed in an “open” style, with no separation or walls between desks. This is meant to facilitate more communication within groups. Office workers are typically encouraged to participate in social events, which can include regular drinking parties, special events like bounenkai and shinnenkai (end of the year and new year parties), or even company trips. Another interesting thing is that in many Japanese companies, employees will spend time working in different departments, at least initially. Among other benefits, this serves to make workers more aware that they are part of larger team structure.


Japan as Role Model



Japan’s amazing growth in the postwar era, and the fact that it remains the third-largest economy in the world, attest to the fact that these practices are in many ways successful. In fact, many Western businesspeople in the 70’s and 80’s looked to Japan as a role model for corporate management. Peter F.Drucker, in an article written in 1971 for The Harvard Business Review entitled “What We Can Learn from Japanese Management” writes: 

“In effect, the Japanese apply to work in business and industry their own traditions. The two great skills of the Samurai, members of the warrior caste that ruled Japan for 300 years until 1867, were swordsmanship and calligraphy. Both demand lifetime training.” 

Team-building is the same. It requires constant practice, and the Japanese have built a system in which to some extent, teamwork is ingrained in the social fabric.


Towards a New Model


The only issue is that many of these practices have now become routinized, and part of established social hierarchies. Drinking parties can be great, but they stick to the formula of socialization=team-building, which is only part of the answer. It may also create a barrier between those who drink and those who don’t. Even group trips, which take team members out of their normal environments, may not push members to go outside of their normal social roles. 

Basically, the routine nature of these social functions, while good in terms of sustaining social cohesion, might not really push groups to progress forward as a team, since everyone knows exactly what to expect and how to act.



Conclusion


Teams need constant team-building practice, as well as situations that force them out of their boxes, so that they can properly assess how to grow and adapt to changing tasks. Our team at Invite Japan is dedicated to reinventing team-building in Japan. We know how to create the perfect team-building event for your group or company. Contact us today