Feb 18, 2016

Meetings in Japan : Let's discuss about it? Run!

Meetings in Japan : Let's discuss about it? Run! photo

Meetings in Japan has often been discussed in many books, blogs, threads and so on.

There is a word in Japanese which is 議論 (Giron) , which means "discussion". (you can check it on this good online dictionnary:  http://www.alc.co.jp/ )
If a colleague suggests you to "discuss" about something, you might end up in endless meetings.
While it is part of the Japanese culture to try to reach a consensus through a series of meetings, it can often suck an extraordinary amount of corporate time.
If you are working in a foreign company, so-called Gaishikei, it might be different, but still you will be working mainly with Japanese and as it is part of the culture, you will have to live-up with the fact that you might spend your day in a meeting room.

Some memories about Meetings in Japan:

If announced in advance, and if let's say 10 peoples will attend the meeting, you can expect that each of them will have prepared a lot of documents.
And of course, a copy of each document for each participant. So more paper on your desk at the end of the meeting. (most probably it will not be printed on both sides, but who cares?)
(If we talk about paper and IT-less environment you might be interested to read my other post here: http://directionjapan.com/it-in-the-workplace-in-japan/
Either lunch time, or some urgency will save you from the meeting going on for long hours.
Be careful of meetings announced to start at 4:00PM, you might well be in for a long night in the office.
Some peoples will just do presentation using their printed documents, reading all those pages.
Some more adventurous will use powerpoint (sometimes with tons of text packed in each slide - no powerpoint is not a wordprocessing tool).
Some even more adventurous will use Excel, but again to pack more text in the sheet.
(Still Excel is still used as a wordprocessing tool in many occasions in Japan, even now.)

The Pre-Meetings in Japan:

In clubs, you have "afters", in Japan for meetings you have "before" (you have "afters" also but will be discussed later)
In order to reach a consensus, most peoples will have pre-meetings. Maybe one-to-one meeting with each member in order to build a pre-consensus.
So you would expect that when the real meeting takes place, all has been decided, and the meeting is quickly over.
Nope. Still time for "Discussion" is required.
So now calculate the amount of time necessary to reach a conclusion.
If you have 10 participants and one of them has the reach a consensus in the group and take a decision.
It equals to 9 pre-meetings and 1 general meeting. So generally more than 12 hours of corporate time...
Then you have to add the "afters". Generally you will end-up going out with your colleagues to have some drink and maybe some Hanseikai (more about Hanseikai and the general drinking party in Japan in my post here).

How am I dealing with all those meetings in Japan?

Simply by reducing their numbers. 
I prefer to have 15 minutes one-to-one meeting with each employee.
Bring me your problems, bring me your solutions and let's decide together.
My door is always open and they can have as many 15 minutes meetings with me as they want.
Generally they do not overflow me with requests.
When I need to take a decision where I need several peoples to be involved, I still use the pre-meetings approach (short meeting please), but then will shorten to the extreme the general meeting.
Bringing opinions and conclusions in a very concise manner, maybe some powerpoint, distributed after by e-mail.

Some typical characters you will find in meetings in Japan:

You surely find them everywhere in the world, but here it is related to my own experience in Japan.

The "meeting lover":

He has been in the company for so many years that he has plenty to tell. Often will talk about things not related to the topic of the meeting and might go on talking for long minutes, delaying the whole process.

The "Let's take a break":

Will often ask for a break (mainly to go for a smoke), will then be called for some urgency at his desk and will delay the restart of the meeting.

The "Mood breaker":

Will be silent during all the meeting, but at the end, when everybody is moving toward a conclusion, will say "but what if..." and then "Discussions" will restart again.

The "Paper monster":

Will have everything printed (of course one set for each participant), with big A3 size excel print-outs with tiny numbers, graphs and tons of copy that you definitely do not want to file or even keep on your desk.

The "Party animal":

Each meeting is a good occasion to go to drink after. So he will eagerly join.

The "Task-Force master":

Be careful! He is the one suggesting to create a task force for some issues. Which will result in more meetings. (he might even suggests several "Task-Forces")... So run away.
Meetings are important, part of the corporate life and helping to bring peoples together. They should however be used in a proper manner and too-many meetings kill the "meeting" spirit.


20 years experience in Japan. running http://directionjapan.com
French citizen in his forties living in Japan and almost 20 years working for foreign companies in Japan.