In selecting Akio Toyoda as its next president, Toyota is reaffirming its commitment to collaborative culture and methods. A key tenet of Toyota is genchi genbutsu which means "see it for yourself.” This is related to the leadership method practiced by HP’s David Packard and Bill Hewlett beginning in the 1940’s and later dubbed “management by walking around.” The idea is that to figure out what’s really going on in an organization, a leader needs to get out of the office, go to factories and loading docks and retail outlets, and get his or her hands dirty.
That’s exactly what Akio Toyoda did when he visited a Toyota dealership in Ann Arbor, Michigan last summer. He wanted to personally investigate a pickup truck recall. A story by Micheline Maynard on February 15, 2009 in the New York Times says Toyoda made a trip “so secret that Toyota’s public relations staff didn’t know he was here.” While at the dealership, he reportedly got down on his hands and knees to examine the undercarriage of a truck. At the news conference in January announcing his appointment, according to the Times, Toyoda announced he would pop up everywhere as he did in Ann Arbor.
Genchi genbutsu or “see it for yourself” fits squarely into collaborative culture and methods. However, it’s not always possible to fly across the world to see what’s happening. That’s where collaborative tools come into play. Through unified communications, we can find one other and connect regardless of level, role or region. We can escalate IM to voice, web conferencing or videoconferencing and spontaneously hash out problems and make decisions. Visual communications is a critical enabler. An ideal solution is telepresence, which makes people feel practically as if they’re sharing the same physical space regardless of distance.
Our research at The Culture of CollaborationÒ Institute has shown that almost all highly-collaborative companies have integrated some form of real-time, interactive video into their operations. As I describe in The Culture of Collaboration book, Toyota uses a custom-designed visual communications system coupled with product lifecycle management and advanced computer-aided design tools that has become essential to its operations. The system links people at design facilities, plants, and at business partner sites and provides a rich virtual environment for developing and producing vehicles.
Two other areas involving collaboration that Akio Toyoda will likely re-emphasize:
1) Making decisions based on long-term goals rather than on short-term developments
2) Nemawashi or making decisions slowly by consensus
While collaborative culture is never about one person, Akio Toyoda is certainly one role model for collaborative leadership.