I enjoy learning about Japanese culture. I recently learned about the Horyuji Temple in Japan. The temple was founded in AD 607. This is said to be the oldest standing wooden structure in the world. This temple was completely restored over a span of 51 years by the Nishioka family and was completed by Tsunekazu Nishioka in 1985. In an interview given in 1985, the master carpenter Nishioka shared a great lesson.
“When building a temple, don’t buy trees, buy a mountain side.” He explained this as an unwritten principle given to him by his ancestors. He explained that a temple’s wood should come from a single location such that the wood can be positioned in the same orientation as the original trees – beams from the trees from north side of the mountain should go on the north side of the temple, and so on.
Each tree, shaped by its soil and decades of wind and rain, has a unique personality, artisans say. The builder, then, must understand and exploit these traits. Trees twisting slightly to the right should be used in conjunction with those twisting left, so that in the end the sum of the forces is zero.
This is a profound thought, and this applies to Teamwork. Everybody in a team works together and brings out the best in themselves and the team. Teamwork is a section of the “Respect for People” pillar of the Toyota Way 2001. In the Japanese culture, the sense of harmony is an important aspect. There is a strong effort to work together. Toyota was able to bring this regional attribute across the globe through Toyota Way 2001. Toyota strengthens their employee base through continuous mentoring and involvement. A team succeeds only when everyone understands the common goal and works collectively towards it. Toyota is able to achieve this and the end result is minimal resistance in their pursuit towards True North.
In an interview in 2007 with Yuki Funo, the chairman and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Funo also discussed the importance of teamwork with the supplier base. Toyota was entering into a new relationship with an axle supplier. The supplier was flabbergasted when Toyota awarded the contract to the supplier without any discussion about prices. The contract was awarded strictly based on the supplier’s processes and quality review. The supplier was not used to that.
“Toyota’s thinking based on the Toyota Way is teamwork with suppliers. This teamwork is going to be a long-lasting relationship. Price is only one element. Trust is a more important element. The relationship is a sharing concept, and should always be win-win. Price is important, too. But trust is perhaps more so.”
“In the church when you get married, the priest or minister doesn’t ask each partner how much each will get from the other in terms of money. You’re asked about how well you get along. What is your commitment to one another? Now, in real-life situations, some companies practice this, and some don’t.”
Tsunekazu Nishioka’s advice is perhaps the best advice I have heard about Teamwork – Everybody aligned in the right direction resulting in optimum results. There is a strong undercurrent of systems thinking in this. I will finish with a story I heard about 3 electricians who were working on the Apollo spacecraft:
A reporter was watching the three electricians work. He watched them intently for some time and asked each person what they were doing.
“I am inserting transistors in to circuits”, said the first person.
“I am soldering this wire”, said the second person.
“I am helping to put a man on the moon”, said the third person.
Always keep on learning…
In case you missed it, my last post was Hot Dog!