Team Culture And The Japan Tour

I am sometimes asked what I think is the most important aspect of Lean business. That’s an easy question to answer. It probably won’t surprise you when I nominate team culture as the most critical. Like me, I’m sure you’ve seen examples where people have invested in tools, techniques, fancy technology and don’t achieve the results they’d hoped for. Without the right team attitude, things just seem to bog down.

I think this is why the Japan tours are so effective as a business proposition. They are an effective way to help people shift their thinking and align with a set of values. Getting your whole team on the same page is half the battle. The second half is securing commitment so that people show up in the way that will transform the business.

Japan is a culture of big harmony which is about sacrifice. In the past, these values have encouraged people to sweep problems under the carpet and not make a big deal out of things. We have that problem in Australia too.

There has been a dramatic change in how that is now applied in the business culture there. If you don’t raise issues, if you don’t point out problems, if you don’t make problems visual, then you’re disrupting the big harmony in the company. By reversing the concept of how harmony is defined people feel obligated to improve rather than ignore the things slowing the business.

It is a powerful thing to see how this thinking is applied to the businesses we visit. For many people we take on these tours I would say it’s like a complete paradigm shift. In terms of their professional life, it creates a change of direction in their thinking. They come out of the Japan tour inspired and committed to showing up at work with a different perception of what their role is.

If people go on the tour as a group from one business, they reflect on their experience and they sit down when they get back from the tour. They often change their strategy and how they’re executing things. They’ll introduce some things they’ve seen. The experience they’ve had tends to drive certain behaviours.

So, for example, one team of people reshaped what they’re measuring in terms of their KPIs. They’ve also introduced a lot of team huddles to try and get information to flow better so they’re better able to manage their projects.

Another team completely flipped the way their existing information cascaded in the business in terms of how they communicate but also how they display their information around their team meetings. They completely flipped it around to have the management team meet and discuss the results of yesterday first thing in the morning and then cascade the information out to the departments.

These are just a couple of examples. It is exciting to see that sort of progress coming directly from the tour experience.


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