manager, Japanese or otherwise, has ever said to me that they wish they had
more meetings to go to. It may be, though, that Japanese business people are
better at finding value in a seemingly pointless meeting than many Western
business people. Admittedly, in some cases the value is simply in catching up
on lost sleep.
meetings are viewed as a necessary part of relationship building, and it’s
implicitly accepted that the official reason for a meeting may not be the real
objective at all. It does lead to mismatched expectations for international
meeting format is the aisatsu-
(greetings) or kyaku-
(customer) mawari (going
around). Senior executives from Japan headquarters will request local
operations to fix up meetings with their counterparts at key customer or
partner companies. Unfortunately, if expectations are not managed, the Western
counterparts end up wondering what on earth the meeting was for.
Western side might have been anticipating that the Japanese company was on an
acquisition hunt, or about to propose some kind of joint venture. But to the
Japanese executive, it was simply about relationship building and information
exchange, and if some kind of mutually advantageous new business proposition
arises from it, in the years to come, so much the better.
meeting that is common internationally is the “getting to know you” meeting,
where all players in a new project get together in the same room, and introduce
themselves to each other, often in a quite personal, informal way.
happened recently to a group of British engineering contractors - the Japanese
lead contractor invited them all to a meeting to kick off the project and of
course they all came armed with Gantt charts and schedules only to find
themselves talking about which football team they supported. In the Japanese
contractors’ mind, this was the moment for everyone to get to know and trust
business people are quietly proactive in finding added value to meetings that
they have been asked to attend. They realise that it is in the interstices that
new ideas and deeper relationships form.
arranged a meeting for a virtual team to come together for the first time in
the Tokyo headquarters. The headquarters arranged the usual factory tour and
visit to the corporate history museum followed by a series of presentations on
what each function and region was doing.
Western participants initially complained to me that they found the sessions
dull and patronising, but then started to talk about how valuable it was
nonetheless to see their colleagues face to face for the first time, and that
quite a lot of planning had taken place on the train journey to the factory,
and problems solved over a beer or two in the evening.
really” I responded, trying not to look like that was precisely the point of my
instigating the event in the first place, “it’s good to hear you managed to get
something out of it, nonetheless.”
article originally appeared in the June 22nd 2010 edition of the Nikkei Weekly