Picture the obsessed leader of a startup who knows his or her company either needs to pivot or create a new product to be successful or to even avoid disbanding. This leader, perhaps the founder, holes up in the office for weeks doing the mind-numbing research to decide on the best way forward.
Finally a plan is ready to present to the troops. The founder excitedly presents the ideas and looks forward to their rapid implementation over the next few weeks. But a funny thing happens on the way to financial salvation–the rest of the team isn’t so excited and the plan isn’t implemented nearly as fast as required.
It’s a typical scenario among U.S. companies and it’s played out in a wide variety of ways. It could be like my startup example, or it could be an established firm making a midcourse correction, or even a department head trying to make changes to improve efficiencies.
What happens is this: One person takes on the job of finding a solution to a problem. Let’s say the solution takes three weeks to ferret out. The next step–implementing the changes–is met with resistance, so it takes a year to pull it off … if it ever gets fully accepted.
Take a Different Approach
In Japan, many businesses–Toyota famously–employ the concept of nemawashi within the larger management principle of kaizen; nemawashi generally means to prepare the roots or gain consensus throughout the workforce. To American managers who like to take the “bull by the tail” and “make things happen,” it can seem like it slows down change, but in fact, it makes change, or new endeavors, happen more quickly.
For example, in the picture I painted above, if our leader would have brought the team together to investigate the problem and come up with a solution, then those people would have been “pre-sold” on the idea when implementation time arrived. Trying to get them lined up behind the idea after it’s already set in stone can be like herding cats.
The approach of building consensus can pay big dividends in virtually every phase of management and leadership. Not only does it make change easier to accomplish, with such a huge emphasis on concepts such as “brand evangelism” and “company loyalty” today, establishing nemawashi as a core value makes a lot of sense. When your team knows that you value their thoughts and that their ideas truly help guide the company, their loyalty increases exponentially.
Further, although we have come to associate these kinds of attitudes, philosophies, and approaches to management with big manufacturing companies like Toyota, they work just as well in smaller settings and industries that produce “softer” products or even services.
Mobile Game Development
I recently came across an interesting case study of how one software company went about the development of a new game. As I reviewed it, I realized that they took this consensus-building approach from the very beginning of their project.
The team at 888 Ladies started to plan a new iOS/Android game, which came to be named “Treasure Fair.” Here’s how they describe their first steps in the creative process:
“An endeavor like the creation of Treasure Fair involves dozens of people across numerous teams in a multidisciplinary organization like 888: creative teams, product management, development, QA, marketing, and more. So, the first step in Treasure Fair’s evolution was convening a broad forum to agree on an idea.” (My emphasis.)
And they maintained that approach as they moved on, involving a group of no less than 10 people who worked together through a series of three meetings. They presented research and a series of votes that rated some 20 different concepts that were presented.
Strong Start Trumps Fast Start
To some, it may seem that an approach like this slows things down, and I think our human psychology has something to do with that. We like to get off to “fast starts.” It “feels” like we’re really accomplishing something when we can start moving quickly.
However, experience tells us that it’s the thousands of little details and problems that pop up later in the process that really cost us time. (Anyone who has lived through a home renovation project will testify to this truth–it may feel great blasting through the demolition stage, but the real work is yet to be done!)
You see, it’s not how quickly you begin that counts–it’s how efficiently you complete the entire project and how you use the process to build your team so you’re in a stronger position to meet the even bigger challenges that lie ahead.