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Why do Japanese companies have so many meetings each day?

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That's something I've always wondered myself...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The bosses want to remind their underlings who's in charge.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

There are many reasons for this, but traditionally it is more based on reporting/summarizing of events and ideas within the firm. The micro-departmental operations are not so transparent sometimes with things taking place outside of the office often, such as deals signed by handshakes, and agreements made over a dinner or cocktail lounge, which have much more gravity than in Western companies that usually do things more formally with documents and signatures during business hours.

So with a lot of departments, subsidiaries, or managerial freedom they might have in a fast paced company, one of the ways to keep in organization is these summary, reporting, and greeting meetings. Today it is held over teleconference much more, but older customs dictate that a lot of the meetings must still take place in presence of the senior members in charge, and be blessed by them to charge through each phase of projects.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

To pretend all the old oyaji are busy!

When I first washed up here I worked got my work done promptly so my desk was usually pretty tidy so EVERYONE said I was hima LOL!

So I did an experiment, got my work done promptly but left my desk an utter mess all day long, you should have heard all the compliments about how busy I was.............its all fake folks, it kills me when Japanese say they are so busy when they are absolutely NOT & then they do the overtime, lunacy!

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Pretty broad question. Assuming they do have "so many meetings" then my guess would be to build consensus.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

One of the biggest reasons I feel is to diffuse responsibility, and to have a reason NOT to make any decisions. By diffusing responsibility, if an idea fails, well.... its not really anyone's fault. After all, the entire group decided upon it. Secondly, by using meetings, decisions can be delayed indefinitely. We've seen this time after time in the political and bureaucratic arenas. Something happens that calls for action. Said action is either slightly uncertain, or else unpalatable to the ruling powers of the company, bureau, or governmental group. Instead of actually taking any action therefore, a study group will be called to do meeting after meeting after meeting, dragging out the decision making process until hopefully the situation that called for action has either resolved itself, or the people have forgotten about it anyway.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Projects I've been on in the USA that had a lot of meetings seemed more designed to spend internal research money.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

We need to get to the bottom of this. Conference room in ten, y'all.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Something to "do."

3 ( +3 / -0 )

When I first came to Japan doing consulting work, there were 2 daily meetings -

AM - what are we doing today. What is the status. Fairly short. PM - what did we actually get done. What is the status. Did we learn anything new. Longer. Management just wanted to ensure we were all on the same page and that surprises were minimized. They wanted to tap the brains from people in the room to make the best decisions possible (usually). Perhaps this was an unusual company?

Back in the USA, my job had many more meetings daily as I worked many different projects - usually 10-20 at a time. Some days, I'd have only 1 or 2 hours that didn't have meetings scheduled. Fortunately, these were all conference calls as the different project teams coordinated tasks, so I could work at my desk and have the call muted most of the time after my design portion was handed off to the many deployment people for work (the real physical things). Of course, on newer projects, I'd have to run the meetings to capture the vast knowledge of the other members in to a cohesive plan.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I wonder if Japanese companies have more meetings than companies in other countries. I've only worked in Japan, so I have no point of comparison. Anyone who has worked in multiple countries want to ring in on this?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Strangerland, I worked in military, governmental, and normal businesses for about 8 years in the USA prior to coming to Japan. In none of them did I have the number of meetings nor length of meetings that I see happening in Japanese companies. Routinely, you'd have a meeting, and either it was A) informational, in which someone would disseminate information to the group, or B) decision making. If it was B, by the end of the meeting, decisions were most often made. Not put off to the next meeting, nor was there the numerous "pre-meetings" that occur in Japanese companies in which consensus is reached prior to the actual meeting. The meeting happens, people talk, and a decision was made. Companies and leaders who could not make such decisions were usually deemed as ineffective leaders.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

nor was there the numerous "pre-meetings" that occur in Japanese companies in which consensus is reached prior to the actual meeting.

David -- agree. Important meetings in Japan, especially those involving multiple departments and/or firms are actually multiple meetings in three stages -- The "pre-meetings", as you describe, to basically script the actual meeting; the actual meeting which is nothing more than a formality; and, finally, the "post-meetings" where the next steps are decided. Silly waste of time. But Japan respects process, consensus, and predictability over actual results, so it all makes sense in that culture.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I have no first-hand experience with this, so this is only from what I've read. Therefore take this with a grain of salt:

Japanese companies prefer to act only after a consensus has been reached within the company. Managers are reluctant to initiate anything without first getting the blessing of the majority of other managers in the company. This kind of "groupthink" requires a lot of meetings to get the managers in agreement. Now multiply that by the number of initiatives the company decides on every month and you can get an idea of the number of meetings required per month.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The concept of Wa lies at the heart of the Japanese approach to meetings. Thus in searching for a solution you cannot achieve it at the expense of disturbing the peace. Therefore no individual will wish to proffer a strong opinion which might cause some form of confrontation and affect Wa. Japanese decisions are reached thorough a process of consensus-building meetings, each of which is concerned with the preservation of Wa. This means that the decision-making process can seem long and drawn out. Patience is essential in these situations, as to show impatience could have an adverse affect on the all-important Wa. In the end due to the consensus nature of decision making in Japan, it can very often be difficult to determine a finish time. In this modern day unfortunately some companies day have become addicted to meetings and that hurts cause it can damage the morale.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

theFu: When I first came to Japan doing consulting work, there were 2 daily meetings - AM - what are we doing today. What is the status. Fairly short. PM - what did we actually get done. What is the status. Did we learn anything new. Longer. Management just wanted to ensure we were all on the same page and that surprises were minimized.

The only time that happened to me was a late project and managers tired of getting hammered by customer, I think. I remember it as just like you described, so maybe they were borrowing this technique from Japanese books on management. It was in early 90's.

Problem was, we were working three shifts due to schedule and due to equipment availability, and late-night shift (inc. me) had to come back to work in the morning just for the 7:30AM meeting. After a while we just got too tired and management noticed that or maybe we complained, and they stopped.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What I've observed has been more or less ritual, with a tight hierarchy of who can speak and when. For the most part, meetings I've sat in on are dreadfully boring. Opinions are invited and then the Bucho/Shacho says what's going to happen. In most situations it was decided before the meeting and people's opinions are more or less disregarded anyway.

Then, occasionally, someone gets torn to pieces. He's not given the chance to explain or answer, just apologise profusely. Questions are asked, but they are not ones that need answering, like, "Why are you so stupid?"

So part of it is a deterrent. A worker doesn't want to screw up because if he does he's going to be ripped apart in the meeting.

I read somewhere that one of the major differences between Japanese and European/American people is that the deterrent for bad action for us is guilt - we wouldn't do a certain thing because we would feel guilty. For Japanese it is shame - they wouldn't do something because they would feel shame. Mothers play on this, "Don't do that! Everybody's looking at you!"

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Who wants to go home to their wives early and, gasp, talk!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

They need to set the time and date for the next meeting, so everyone must meet to ensure everyone knows when to meet next time.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Based on my own experience, it looks like Japanese love to procrastinate over anything and everything. At the same time, little is usually solved because nobody wants to be solely responsible, thus, creating an atmosphere of pointlessness for holding meetings in the first place. It also seems like some people at the meetings like to listen to themselves talk too much when others would rather see the meeting come to an end.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

...[I] left my desk an utter mess all day long, you should have heard all the compliments about how busy I was.............its all fake folks

Indeed. Looking busy is more important than actually being busy. Actual productivity is quashed by the various scenarios described by others in this thread. Thus an entire nation wastes its resources and its time and beats down its workers. Submission to the system is what matters.

My J colleagues could not believe that I did not wish to schedule a meeting at day's end for our cultural exchange group. Why? said I--since there was no reason for me to be vague or indirect. Here was an opportunity to demonstrate how another culture works (and quite splendidly).

I explained to my bewildered cohorts that everything of importance for the day and any heads-up for tomorrow's action-packed schedule was reviewed each morning. That took 10 minutes. Plus a detailed summary was written in the schedule they'd received and studied under our guidance before departure. Repeating that yet again to intelligent people capable of taking responsibility is insulting.

Not one of them ever missed a beat or a bus or anything else. More amazing--they were 14-18 years old. Set the bar high and empower people and you'll get high performance.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It doesn't sound very professional if you don't do some sort of pre-meetings before the meetings. People won't go along with you.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Environment different in Japan, in US I've rarely been to pre-meetings, usually only before customer meetings, with jokes about having the "pre-meeting before the meeting".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"People won't go along with you."

GOOD! Incremental, agonizingly slow "harmonious" action is what stifles innovation, creativity, and action. Screw "wa." Get things done, instead of sitting around all day doing nothing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It depends on the meetings. If it's a important meeting where you want "votes", then of course you need pre-meetings. The pre-meetings can be in any forms. You can just go to their desks. I'm sure Americans do the same.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

They're not "meetings" here, but more "talk-downs". It's most certainly a one-way street, if you catch my drift.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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