Have you ever tried to brainstorm with Japanese colleagues?
If you did, you might have been disappointed by the lack of participation by your colleagues.
When you ask Japanese colleagues to brainstorm, you are asking them to do something they have little experience with. Indeed, at school, they had almost no discussion or debate classes so brainstorming can be challenging for them. Here are 5 tips for more effective interaction when brainstorming:
1. Ask them to prepare
This is probably the most important thing. Don’t take your Japanese colleagues by surprise. Tell them in advance what you would like to brainstorm about. They will then come with ideas. It is almost impossible in a Japanese business context to expect someone to come up with ideas out of the blue and without any data to back it up.
That, of course, means that we have to be prepared to show valid data to prove our ideas as well!
2. Explain the rules in advance
Tell them what they are supposed to prepare and tell them how the brainstorming meeting will take place. Ideally, assure them that any results will not be binding.
3. Use post-its
It is always a good idea to use post-its to separate ideas from people. Many Japanese people write English better than they speak, so they will be more comfortable sharing in this manner. Once a suggestion is on the wall, it is “detached” from its owner, and therefore easier to discuss or challenge. This method also has the advantages of slowing down the speed of the discussion and encouraging everyone to participate by posting his or her ideas on the wall.
4. Avoid having senior Japanese staff in the room
Japanese have a tendency to shy away and become more silent when there are more senior Japanese employees in the meeting.
5. Have a meeting facilitator
Colleagues from Western cultures have a tendency to monopolize the discussion in meetings. By the time the Japanese participant has formulated an idea in his head, the conversation has moved on to a different topic. A facilitator who is aware of the dynamics can preserve space for Japanese colleagues to contribute, remind non-Japanese to speak more slowly, and ensure no one interrupts each other.
If you follow those 5 simple steps, your brainstorming is likely to be much more productive.
To understand the bigger picture of Japanese business culture and get more tips like these, why not attend a JCO online session!