It is always interesting to talk through the cultural dynamics of entering into a potential joint venture in Japan with a client. Joint ventures are, at any time, a mine field but when you overlay the complexities of Japanese business culture, things start to get really tricky.
I’m always sceptical about overseas joint ventures – I’ve seen too many of them go wrong and seen too many law firms make fat fees trying to unravel them to be anything but sceptical. I always ask myself if a JV is the best solution – are there other vehicles that could help both parties reach their goals more effectively? In my view cross-border JVs should be the avenue of last resort and entered into at the end of a long journey of working together through other structures.
Anyway, last week I found myself working with a client who is on the cusp of entering a JV with a major Japanese corporation and we spent several hours working through how Japanese business culture might impact on the early stages of the relationship. As always when running a Japan cultural awareness training programme, a key concern was about the slowness of Japanese decision-making. Deadlines keep getting but back, decsions are delayed, meetings are postponed – and all of this starts to raise concerns about the level of commitment the Japanese have to the process.
It is really improtant to understand the complex interplay of consensus and hierarchy at work within any Japanese company and that very often the Japanese spend a long time defining what the question is that needs to be answered before starting to look at how to answer it.
Hopefully the deep dive I had with the client has helped them redefine their approach, reasses their expectations from Japan and pointed them generally in the right direction.