Managing Business Teams In Japan

Guest post by Brooke Faulkner

An international assignment to Japan is one of the most rewarding achievements you could reach in business. Nothing feels better than to be wanted overseas for your talents and your accomplishments.

However, most of us, unfortunately, have a habit of acting culturally unaware when we visit new places, especially if we don’t have a lot of interaction with diversity within our home country. While that’s a broad generalization, it happens enough for us individually to be aware and check ourselves before traveling overseas.

I want to focus on business in Japan specifically right now because there is a lot of room to do international business with them. According to Alliance Experts, alternative energy, gaming, music, engineering, and healthcare are all fields thriving in that country, as well as ours.

Combining forces can be a really good thing. However, when you enter someone else’s home, you need to be aware and respectful of their way of life.

Careers in project management are highly sought after in the Western world right now, but to be a project manager in Japan requires cultural awareness, good communication skills, and a willingness to learn. For this reason, I want to cover some basics for those of you heading over there soon to manage projects. Stay ahead of the cultural curve so things go smoothly, and you’ll find yourself in a much better situation than if you hadn’t been able to!

Navigating Culture

Workplace culture is very important, and that can be hard to navigate even more so in a new country. The importance of respect transcends cultural differences. However what’s considered respectful and what isn’t changes from place to place.

For this reason, it’s important to know a little bit about Japanese culture before you get to Japan, especially if you, as a team manager, are working with and managing new people.

For some guidance, I pulled some information from E-Diplomats and Business Insider, who point out some cultural differences regarding workplace conduct and respect in Japan. Here are a few notable ones:

  • Business cards are often used the way Americans use handshakes.
  • Group work shows no pride in different members: you’re all in this together.
  • Treat your employees like their work is important, and show as much pride in your work as they do in theirs. Pride in your work and efficiency in the work process are very important. This is roughly translated with the word “shokunin.”

You can check both resources for more information, but workplace respect doesn’t stop at workplace specific differences — not by a long shot.

Communicating Past a Language Barrier

Body language is of the utmost importance when traveling to a new country. This is especially true if there is a language barrier like there probably is if you’re a typical white American. For instance, Japanese culture tends to be less touchy than American culture and values personal space differently. Eye contact and staring are similarly regarded as personal and rude if overdone. Another example that you may have heard of: When you enter someone’s home, always take your shoes off.

Keep in mind that silence is natural and is considered to release tension — as opposed to the U.S., where it builds tension. These things are important because not only should you understand how to communicate effectively with your team but how they’re communicating with you! Read up on Japanese culture so body language and social cues can speak for you when your mouth can’t. Things will go much smoother for you in doing so.

Willingness to Learn

Not to sound too redundant, but the Japanese tend to value learning and education. You won’t know everything going over there for the first time. If you show respect for the different cultural cues and customs, your team members and colleagues will appreciate you.

You may “mess up” here or there, but if your intentions are good and clear, you will hopefully avoid mistakes that are difficult to come back from. It requires an open mind.

You need to understand this because, at the end of the day, some things are just different. The public transit system, the food, the media, the social cues — they all differ due to a different place and culture. But that doesn’t mean these differences are bad or that you’re bad for not knowing them right off the bat. If you’re willing to learn about different cultures and how to respect them, your experience may thank you.

Have you ever worked overseas in Japan? Have you ever managed a team over there? What was your experience like? We’d love to hear about it — please share in the comments below!

Brooke Faulkner
@faulknercreek

About the author:

Brooke Faulkner is a writer in the Pacific Northwest who has conducted business all over the world. You can find more of her writing on Twitter via @faulknercreek

 

Editor’s Note: In my experience, an open mind is helpful, but not enough. Moving into another culture requires focused learning and intercultural coaching too. If you wish to work on your global competency right now you might want to work with our RockMe! App right now.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some HTML is allowed

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.