Review of one-week social collaboration onboarding in Tokyo


During the past couple of years I was involved in the roll-out and training of various collaboration tools for a customer in the automotive sector. Since last year I also support the onboarding of those tools and their inherent values (e.g. openness, autonomy, decentralization, community). Until now I had the chance to visit colleagues in Brussels, Hungary and Italia and to learn about their demands and cultural specifics.

Last week I visited the Sales location in Tokyo, Japan. The objective of our visit was threefold: First, we wanted to train those collaboration tools. Second, we intended to discuss concrete possibilities to enhance knowledge sharing between different Sales locations in Asia-Pacific and the headquarter in Germany and to connect locations and people. Third, we aimed to learn and listen about the cultural differences and demands.

Preparation phase


Prior to our trip to Tokyo I visited a intercultural training to become more aware of and sensitive about cultural differences in advance. Thank you Silvia Dehne for sharing your deep insights with me. By the way, Silvia will talk about intercultural communication during our third Benchlearning Project event in September this year. For preparation, we furthermore provided our colleagues in Tokyo with various screencast videos that demonstrare the main functionalities of the different tools (we just got positive feedback for this action). The preparation phase also included a webconference to give a short tool tour and to adress questions. To allow for questions to raise especially before and after our visit, we setup an online-community as a transparent exchange channel.

Week in Tokyo


We already arrived in Tokyo on Saturday – so we had the opportunity to experience the City of Tokyo, with all it’s facets and colourful places. On Monday we gave a social collaboration introduction and why this topic is important for companies. In this regard we also had the chance to briefly introduce this topic in the all employee meeting.


From Monday to Thursday we conducted various tool training sessions with a focus on social functions and how to use them internally to enhance knowledge sharing. On Friday we recorded several video statements with both management positions and key stakeholders. These will be used back in Germany for internal communication purposes. Already during the week, we shared our experiences and discussions via Live-blog with our community back in Germany.

Cultural differences


The japanese culture varies in culture, especially regarding the importance of harmony, group-belonging and hirarchy (three pillars of japanese culture). Nevertheless we perceived only slight cultural differences when it comes to internal social media usage. This probalbly stems from the fact, that it is a german based company where there is a lot of collaboration with both german and japanese colleagues. However we made some minor changes in the way we organized the training sessions:

First: We reduced the amount of topics we explained and dicussed. This was due to the language barrier (meaning it simply takes longer to get a message through). Moreover, since the japanese culture is high in context, people need more time to make up their own picture.

Second: We also mitigated those messages that stress the social media possibilities to create short-cuts in the information flows (meaning: changing the role of management).

Third: We focussed on longer practice sessions that allowed me to help each participant individually (otherwise reluctant to raise questions in the group).


Despite these minor changes, we can state that the japanese collagues have similiar intentions when it comes to knowledge sharing. The main demand was for best practice exchange with other Asia-Pacific locations and communicaiton with the headquarter in Germany. It is not a coincident that the most well-known researcher in the field of knowledge management come from Japan. Japanese society is highly hirarchically but open knowledge sharing is important to people. It sounds paradox at first glance but actually it isn’t. There is an interesting article about these topics (unfortunately only in german).

Next steps and Call to action

Probably I will have the opportunity to bring these internal social media tools to even more locations in Asia this year. I ‘m eager to learn more about the different demands for a more transparent knowledge sharing in those locations and to create fruitful use cases that connect locations, knowledge and people.

I would highly appreciate comments on this post that may add your experiences – not only with a focus on Japan but all Asia. I’m especially interested in campaigns and projects that involve people from different locations in the omboarding process to finally reach out to all employees.

5 Kommentare zu „Review of one-week social collaboration onboarding in Tokyo“

  1. Thank you Benedikt for your summary! I can verify most of your experiences – since you asked here are some things to consider, or things I did differently:
    – we often hear that colleagues from Asia seem not to give much feedback. In my eyes many (specially) german colleagues just want “Yes understood” as a feedback, but not really an open discussion, or even own ideas. If this is the case, it takes a lot more time (as you described). I experienced in various projects that real interest, changing perspective, real listening and understanding their hierarchy and social connections drives great results.
    – Why not send them your training material upfront, have 2 sessions for questions via phone or video, than haven THEM doing the training workshops for their colleagues (and you just observe) – Learning by Teaching.. a great method also to verify your material, to learn about them a lot more and involving them a lot deeper.
    – With our GUIDEs I went even one step further – I handed over responsibility, organization and even let them plan the agenda… we just aligned on the overall goal and some major achievements. That “Freedom To Act” and “Trust” made them become very active and we could experience THEIR way of “Getting things done” – in this case WE learned a lot / while they learned the tools and usage.
    As soon as we accept that they (and that is true for every nation) are great themselves – and we are not the “german emperor* bringing the only truth” ;-) … a great collaboration journey can start – for both sides
    *of course I don’t want to say this is what you did – but I experienced this behavior many times in 25 years of “collaboration” in the markets – it is improving a lot lately ;-)
    Hope that helped a bit

    1. benedikt.scheerer

      Thanks Harald for sharing your insights. I really like your way you make social collaboration about the people and their intentions. I totally agree with you – people regardless of topic should’nt be patronized. People make different experiences that will lead to different perspectives on a topic. This isn’t about right or wrong, but on different angles. This makes we always think of the movie Dead Poets Society in which the teacher John Keating exactly demonstrates this – be aware of differences in perspectives and proactively try look at a topic from different angles. This avoids the trap of judging other people and their motives – everybody acts out of a reason (to be fair: also management).

      To cut a long story short, I will try to incorporate your “Learning by teaching” in our next international efforts. I think giving ownership/freedom to act will create more energy and drive to the topic. Thanks again Harald for sharing.

  2. Great report Benedikt.

    I really liked the three modifications you made, especially the mitigation of messages about subversive applications of Social Collaboration tools. Most of my experience (being based in Australia) is with South East Asia, but the strategy is also applicable to Japan and something Westerners can easily overlook.

    Your insight that national and corporate cultures are interwoven is a good one. Possibly thanks to the popularization of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, many seem to over-simplify culture or think of it as a separate master attribute, rather than the emergent sum of the many individual’s beliefs and behaviors. I like Harald’s advice to get the local people more involved in the process. Not just because it gets them engaged and starting on a learning journey, but because a project like this creates an environment where ideas and understandings can be explored in an iterative way and new applications of Social collaboration tools can be tested (and hopefully measured). This helps you avoid the “It worked there, so it must work here too” problem that many managers fall for.

    By the way, I like the chart in your report. Did you build this yourself? Would you mind if I use it with attribution?

    1. benedikt.scheerer

      Hello Stuart, nice to read from you. Thank you very much. I really appreciate your australian perspective on that topic. I already answered Harald on that topic of “Learning by teaching”. Although we already included a lot of open discussions around what our japanese colleagues want to do with these social collaboration tools, I think we can stress this even further. Besides giving them more ownership, giving them ongoing help/guidance and to connect them with other international colleagues is crucial as well. As you mentioned the importance of the multifaceted nature of cullture, I updated the blog entry. I added a chart that demonstrate the various levels and their interdependencies.

      I created the chart by myself. I would love if you reuse that chart. Greets to Australia, I hope we can meet in the future Down Under.

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