Having lived in Japan for more than 3 years and having taught Japanese management techniques and theory to Western companies, I regularly encountered resistance to the idea that we should emulate the Japanese model of collaboration. “Collaboration comes naturally to the Japanese,” I was told, “because of the historical practice of a rice planting culture”. This is a very common misconception and an even more common rationalization for why we shouldn’t resort to collaboration more.
Let’s dispel the myth first: historically speaking, the Japanese were a feudal society. Rank, hierarchy, and place in society determined one’s relationship to others. Access to the noble class and the ranks of samurai was a matter of birth: it could not be purchased or acquired. Commoners who failed to instantly display respect for the elite by touching their foreheads to the ground often found themselves headless, made an example for an entire village.
So during the Occupation following World War 2 when the U.S. was rebuilding Japan, teamwork and collaboration did not come naturally. Centuries, if not millennia, of following orders and paying close attention to rank and status continued as a strong racial and cultural memory. Employees paid careful attention to what their supervisors and managers said and obeyed.
No, it took years of hearing that “Made in Japan means it’s junk”, years of embarrassment while trying to redeem their national reputation, and years of intense consultation and admonishment from Messrs. Deming, Crosby, and Taguchi on the importance of teamwork before the Japanese understood.
Ironically, in a nation obsessed with teamwork and working together in sports of all kinds and at all levels, we have lost sight of the meaning outside of the sports arena. Teamwork does take a lot of work: practice, conditioning, and yes, more practice. Teamwork requires giving more than getting: being willing to pass the ball to a teammate if they have a better or more open shot. Being willing to work together for the greater good at the expense of personal glory or personal interests.
Teamwork doesn’t happen naturally, not in Japan, or in the United States. If Thomas Friedman’s prediction comes true that those organizations who are most likely to succeed in the 21st Century are those organizations who are most skilled in both internal and external collaboration, are we as a society, ready to return to the long hours and commitment that collaboration requires?
With the presidential elections looming around the corner, the critical role of elections in a democratic society cannot be forgotten. That is why Jeff and I value our role as Impartial Election Administrators to labor organizations. We have been providing impartial election services to labor organizations for over 3 decades. In addition to serving as Impartial Referendum Officers for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, we have conducted a wide variety of elections for labor groups:
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American society is broken. We are so divided along political lines that we have lost the will and perhaps the ability to reach agreements. From a mediator’s perspective, it is ironic that we find ourselves in this position. We are a negotiating society: from cradle to grave we depend upon our negotiation skills to solve problems. Over 90% of all litigation filed in this country is settled rather than litigated; that means that the parties either negotiate a resolution on their own or with the help of a mediator. And yet for a society that is so comfortable with negotiation, we seem to have forgotten that effective negotiation requires give and take, compromise, and that an acceptable outcome usually contains agreements that address the interests of both sides.
The centerpiece of our democracy is the Constitution. It represents the epitome of compromise. It balances the interests of the states with those of the federal government. It balances the power of the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government to see that no one branch acquires too much authority.
Our mediators and arbitrators from around the country are reporting back to us that some of the polarization so evident in Washington and in political circles is spilling over into collective bargaining. One of the impacts is that when parties replace explaining their interests with explaining their ideology, it becomes very difficult to reach an agreement. Parties are reluctant even to acknowledge that they share common interests because they view it as a matter of principle, of ideology.
Last year I wrote that we need to restore the dialogue: collective bargaining leaders that depend on good data, good listening skills, and good communication and yes, compromising skills, need to set an example and demonstrate the importance of dialogue.
A year later, the situation is no better, perhaps worse.
More than ever, labor and management leaders and your neutral counterparts need to work together to restore dialogue and civility. The enemy is not in the room: we still have much more in common and we need to work together to protect our common interests and our future.
It is critical that we find a way to help fix America, and I believe that we will go a long way if we start recognizing that there is no one point of view that represents the truth. It is our diversity of viewpoints which makes us strong, and which prepares us to contend with all sorts of challenges. America is ours to fix, and the time is now.
I am pleased to announce the launching of the Hartfield Resolution Group (HRG). HRG has acquired the impartial consulting services business of NCDS, and will continue to provide mediation, arbitration, facilitation, impartial election administration, training, case administration and relationship-building activities that, in the past, we have offered under the NCDS banner. You can depend upon HRG to continue to provide:
~ Fair and transparent case administration services and reasonable fees
~ Blue Ribbon Panels of neutrals in employment, labor, health care, commercial and construction disputes
~ A capacity to custom-design rules, procedures, and panels
~ Impartial election administration services for all kinds of elections
~ Great training programs in mediation, arbitration, and negotiation
~ Outstanding facilitation and training programs in Interest-Based and Mutual Gains Bargaining
~ Exceptional customer service
Send me an e-mail at email@example.com and let us know what we can do to improve the ADR services, training, election and case administration services that you currently have. We are ready to exceed your expectations.
After 36 years of serving as a state, federal, and private mediator and arbitrator, I am aware of an increasing reluctance at the bargaining table, and in society at large, to view other points of view as equally valid, and therefore not worth listening to. I am committed to find ways to restore the dialogue, rebuild the trust, and point out the common ground.
We want to thank all of our clients and supporters for the privilege of working with you over the years at NCDS. If we haven’t had the opportunity to work together yet, we’d be delighted to show you what we can do together.
Ed Hartfield (with Jeff Hartfield and the HRG staff)