North american and Japanese working styles


A Challenging Workplace

as a leader in campus organizations, samira Tanaka, a student, often led projects and took deadlines very seriously. her strong work ethic led to an internship offer at a Japanese automotive company.

at orientation for her internship, samira learned that Japanese companies historically had little diversity in terms of race and gender. Women in Japan were not as prevalent in the workforce as in north america. in an effort to adapt to north american norms, Japanese subsidiaries had well-developed diversity policies. For example, samira tracked the usage of minority-owned businesses in the company’s supply base. This ensured that the company invested in local businesses that operated in traditionally economically disadvantaged areas. investing in the local community was already an important business value in Japan, so this was a simple adaptation for samira’s company.

The company culture was a unique blend of Japanese and north american work styles. The employees in north america worked fewer hours than the employees in Japan. around the office, it was common for employees to hear Japanese and english. however, management still had some internal conflict. Japanese advisers were perceived as focusing on the creation of consensus in teams, often leading to slow decision making. north american workers were seen as rushing into projects without enough planning. Feedback was indirect from both Japanese and north american managers.

samira successfully completed two internship rotations and was about to graduate from college. her new manager often asked her to follow up with other team members to complete late tasks. as she had been taught in school, she was proactive with team members about completing their work. samira thought she was great at consistently inviting others to participate in the decision-making process. she always offered her opinion on how things could be done better, and sometimes even initiated tasks to improve processes on her own. although she saw herself as an emerging take-charge leader, samira always downplayed her ambitions. in school, she was often stereotyped in negative ways for being an assertive female leader, and she didn’t want to be seen in that way at work.

some of her peers at work advised her that it was important to consider working at a plant near her hometown because it would be closer to her family. however, she was not interested in following that advice. samira thought it was more exciting to work near a large city or to take a job that involved travel. she didn’t think it was appropriate to discuss with her peers her family concerns in relation to her future job needs.

Toward the end of her final internship, samira received a performance evaluation from a senior manager. her manager praised her as being very dependable, as planning deadlines well, and as being very competent at her tasks overall. however, he also told her she was increasingly perceived as too pushy, not a team player, and often speaking out of turn. This often irritated her peers.

samira had never seen herself this way at work and did not understand why she was not seen as aligning with the company’s core value of working with others. Good grades and campus leadership activities had gotten her this far, but this evaluation led her to question whether she could work for this company after graduation.

samira ultimately realized that her workplace was different from the campus atmosphere she was used to. if she wanted to be an emerging leader in the workplace, she had to better adapt to her new environment.

1. What similarities and differences can you identify between north american and Japanese working styles?

2.In what way did this company reflect the characteristics of other Confucian Asia countries?

3. Why do you think Samira was not seen as a team player?

4.What universal leadership attributes did Samira exhibit?

5. What other suggestions would you have for Samira in this situation?


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