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.
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.
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.