Apr 28, 2019

Japan is Efficient? Not with a Committee!

Japan gives off the image of being a very efficient country, and it is true in some aspects here. When you are at a restaurant, for instance, the waiter/waitress comes up to you very soon after you have pushed the ordering button. If you see a road construction being worked on at night, chances are that the road will be repaved by the time you wake up and head out to work the next morning. However, there are also plenty of workplaces practices in Japan that make you realize how inefficient the country can be, especially when there is something called a "committee" involved.

I had to go through this quite regularly while working in a Japanese organization.  The team of people I worked on projects with would come up with ideas, or perhaps we were looking at how to proceed with the project, but we realized we could not do anything to proceed as certain decisions could only be decided by "committee," and that committee had not yet met.

When I was part of a committee on a project I remember the first meeting we had took over an hour and a half.  This was absolutely ridiculous because it was a meeting about when we can have our future meetings. Everyone pulled out their schedule books and one person said, “Sorry, I'm busy on Tuesday afternoons,” and another person would say, “I am okay for Thursday mornings” just for that to be met with, “Sorry, I can’t.  How about Friday?”

It went on and on.  Then, the next question to discuss was how often we would meet. No one at the table mentioned ANYTHING about the project itself, and it was straight-up time wasted. Yet, everyone pretended that the discussion was so formal, important and productive. I saw nothing but egos being stroked.

Japan is Efficient? Not with a Committee! photo

Another case was when someone was being hired into our team. The candidate first had to submit their resume to us and then it was presented to the first committee, which included a supervisor from our team plus other team leaders. After the resume was approved by this committee, it was then submitted to a further committee consisting of people who were above our level. They then examined the resume before it was presented to the final committee up top to approve.  Which means after its approval, the resume was then sent back and the first committee found another time to meet so that they could interview the candidate!

How long did that process of passing the resume back and forth take? A whole month!

The reason was that the committees do not meet often, so after it was accepted by the first committee and passed upward, no one was touching that resume until it was the scheduled time for the next committee to meet, and so on.

How is this process of multiple levels of committee meetings efficient at all?

I realized a lot of our projects got delayed or ended up being cancelled because we lacked the necessary information or approval in time from the committees we require such things from, and they do not have the answers for us just because it was not yet their time to convene.

What makes me even more irritated is to know that not everyone on the committee is passionate or knowledgeable about the topics anyway. It just happened to be the turn of the person in that department to be a part of that committee, so the importance of their input is also questionable.

From what I have heard from the high-ups, those committee meetings at the higher levels never actually last long as people would look, for example, at the resume or suggestion and say, “Yeah that sounds good enough” and approve it.  Patience is not need for the meeting itself, but in waiting for the meetings to actually happen!

Committees make things efficient? From my experience, not the way Japan runs them, and to know that a committee is involved in something honestly worries me.

This post was created by a blogger on City-Cost through the blogging themes



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