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What is your organisation structure for?

If you are a part of a partnered project, or a long-term tie-up with a Japanese company, I'm sure what's really important to you is eventual success, a win-win result and a good working atmosphere between you.

But you might get into trouble in times of change. For many western organisations, change is about changing the rules. You may pore over the accuracy of new SOPs, present them to your counterparts and then be surprised that they are not implemented as you'd like.

The question 'What's the point of your organisation structure?'' - does sound strange - of course it's important. But why would anyone ask this?

Well of course they may not ask it, but there may be subtle differences between the ways in which people from different world regions may interpret their relationship with others, particularly senior managers - that could have an effect on your success if you don't understand it.

In places such as the Us and much of EU, the org chart is there principally to clarify the various functions in the business and how they are coordinated. Managers in this structure derive their authority from the position they occupy. We often augment this hierarchical structure with a project organisation, goal-focused, and hopefully agile enough to respond to change. Yet adherence to this varies, and in particular the focus of managers' authority remains position-based.

We view managers as occupants of roles, that can be replaced. It doesn't matter so much who they are. If a manager is replaced, the new one will be able to exercise the same authority as her predecessor, as soon as her feet are under the table. The king is dead, long live the queen.

Such disposable loyalties are not so easy in more family-oriented, person-centric cultures such as Japan. There is a slightly different answer to the question 'What's the point of your organisation structure?'' - it's there so that everyone knows who has authority over whom. The bonds of loyalty to authority may well transcend new processes that dictate people should do this or that.

Not all Japanese companies fall into this tight definition. Things change. But it's still wise to take care. In particular, be careful of a slew of changes to operating procedures, which have been developed by a specialist 'side' function, are elegant and perfect. But a family-oriented organisation will change when the 'father' at the top of the pyramid decides to!

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