Nemawashi: A Japanese Management Style for the Modern American Worker

NEMAWASHIIn the abstract, I’d advise against traveling down an Internet rabbit hole. You know the situation: You start reading an interesting story, and you see a link to another site midway through that sounds interesting. You click the link and open it in a new tab. Now you’re browsing back and forth between two tabs, and then you open a third interesting link. Before you know it, thirty minutes have passed and you’re on a website that is completely unrelated to your original task.

In the specific, this type of Internet rabbit hole led me to learn about a fascinating concept in management styles from the Japanese. It’s called nemawashi, and it has no direct English translation (which you know I just love).

Roughly speaking, nemawashi refers to influencing change by quietly and persistently socializing new ideas with other people in the organization. Literally, it means “going around the roots.

At least one blogger has pointed out that some type of nemawashi occurs in American businesses as well, but I see the American version as slightly different than the Japanese. In the United States, we talk about building consensus, and that’s certainly part of nemawashi. But from what I have learned of nemawashi since climbing into that rabbit hole, it’s a bit deeper: It’s about getting to know others in the organization, internalizing their concerns, and gradually shaping ideas to best meet the needs of the prevailing interests. Nemawashi seems to put relationships close to the center of business problem-solving.

I love this concept as an idea for American businesses to adopt. Taking nemawashi to heart would bring us a step beyond what I’d call typical efforts at socializing an idea, encouraging us to truly trying to find solutions that solve problems while satisfying stakeholders. It also enlists others as co-owners of solutions, which might increase support for difficult or lengthy projects.

Is nemawashi the way to handle all business issues? Absolutely not–sometimes firm top-down leadership will be needed, sometimes only a subject-matter expert can determine a course of action, and so forth. But for many common workplace projects, nemawashi may be a way to get more stuff done with more engagement from colleagues.

What do you think of nemawashi? Would it help with your work?