Nemawashi: Team Decision Making

5 Min Read
Nemawashi: Team Decision Making

Nemawashi is a simple management system that bases decisions on team consensus first. Decisions in the business shouldn’t be made by individuals, but rather they should be made as a team.

Bringing ideas in from every level from managers to cleaners and especially people who have the most knowledge of the process. A system of building a consensus of informal approval and team opinions before the formal process begins.

“Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly”

Picture a department head who comes up with a seemingly brilliant idea to improve productivity and efficiency. He or she cultivates this solution for a while, identifying holes and ironing out the kinks. After a few weeks, the executive presents the idea for implementation across the department.

However, problems arise with the employees, some of whom are not sold on this particular solution or change. So, it takes several months to come to an agreement and even more to implement the concept. Nemawashi seeks to avoid such outcomes.

The principal places the responsibility of finding solutions on the entire team rather than a single individual. You might have heard about this approach to decision making, which is popular in Japan. Companies should learn how it works and what benefits it offers.

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What is Nemawashi?

Nemawashi (根回し) is a Japanese term that translates to ‘digging around the roots.’ It refers to gardening activities the necessary preparation of a plant for transplant. 

You have to remove the soil around the roots and fill the region with soil from the transplant area. Doing this allows the plant to acclimate to its new soil, making it easy to nurture and giving it the best chance of survival. The process is a metaphor; if you transplant an idea in the minds of people who are not ready to nurture it, then it will die. 

The approach seeks consensus from everyone in the team, allowing everyone to give their opinions and contribute to the process. Through informal meetings first before presenting an idea for formal execution. It means that you spend time with the different players involved in an initiative to get their opinions. Through informal negotiations, you can get the right people to buy into an idea before moving it up the chain.

How Nemawashi Helps Decisions Making in Business

A key point to this process is to make decisions slower but execute the solutions much faster.

  • Reduce Risk: Reduce the potential for failure by involving key people from the team with key expertise in the process.
  • Reduce Time: Consensus of opinion and suggests are carried about before starting a project conflict is therefore avoided and thus time is saved.
  • Team Involvement: Feedback and opinions are a key part of the decision-making process and that contributed to making it better.
  • Increase Success: Refined and tweaked by everyone before moving forward. Refinement before it gets moved forward.

Including everyone in the decision-making process, it may seem counter-intuitive, but time is reduced, not increased because you don’t need to re-do work.

Using team knowledge to make a better process and come up with a better solution to a problem. If you don’t include everyone, that key knowledge and input which could be central to success could be missed because “they weren’t asked”.

Nemawashi in Lean Methology

Lean methodologies success depends on an in-depth understanding of the business processes and a commitment from every team member involved.

Toyota’s lean manufacturing: Considers Nemawashi the first step in any decision-making process for the business. By getting all the right players on board through prior consultation, projects can move along smoothly.  With this Japanese management system, everyone gives their opinions and contributes as a team.

Kaizen: Nemawashi is a key concept of Kaizen methodology continuous improvement of people and processes, always driving to reduce waste and improve efficiency.

Hoshin Kanri: Catchball is a process named after the children’s game where you pass the ball to one another. It is very similar where no decisions are made from above but all levels within the hierarchy of the business set objectives together. Where Nemawashi is more about preparation and digging around the roots of a tree gradually. A delicate process making sure including everyone in the decisions so they feel involved and their opinion has been listened to.

PDCA Deming Cycle: (PDCA Plan – Do – Check – Act) similar to Hoshin Kanri that it is an open-ended process a continuous cycle.

Nemawashi Getting Started

Establish a clear explanation what is the concept idea, what problem does it solve, and why it’s important to pursue

This team decision-making principle involves several steps and the process as transparent as possible.

Step 1 Draft: Start with a project proposal that lays out the current conditions, root cause analysis and cost to the business. It should also include the proposed countermeasures.

Step 2 People Involved: Identity who are the key people involved, decision-makers, and people most affected by the change or problem.

Step 3 Consensus:  Sharing information about the decisions that need to be made, making sure all employees are involved in the process. Giving sufficient time to come up with suggestions and potential failure points. You can then set face-to-face meetings to discuss with the parties individually. Be patient and listen to all inputs.

Step 4 Decison: Next, use the feedback to rewrite the document, which is no longer a proposal. Keep the original to see the changes made. Lastly, set a meeting to support the project formally.

The Benefits to Businesses

Companies can decrease friction and speed up decision-making by implementing the Nemawashi approach. Getting everyone on the same page before tabling an initiative formally saves time.

Prior negotiations help all the team members to input their suggestions and resolve any conflicts. Therefore, team members won’t waste time arguing at the last minute. Another way that you save time is by eliminating long meetings to discuss a concept during the formal presentation.

By ironing out issues during prior negotiations, you reduce the risks of having conflicts.

Having people contribute to the project gives them a sense of ownership. For this reason, they are more likely to do everything to see it succeed, increasing enthusiasm and commitment.

As you build consensus for an idea, you receive important feedback that helps improve it. The more inputs, the better the proposal gets. In the end, you get a far better project than the initial concept.

The approach demands honest communication, which goes a long way in improving engagement. Allowing employees to express themselves during informal meetings can boost workplace relations.

Nemawashi Approach

Team, team, team consensus at every stage. The key is sharing information about the decisions and including the whole team in the decision-making process. 

Potential problems are ironed out before the implementation of a new process and as a result, can offer a faster implementation process. Nemawashi addresses the problem of resistance by team members right at the beginning because all issues are brought to the table. Equalling a positive, cohesive team who know they have input.

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