Joint Program with American People



There are three authors, H.M.Pielet is substantial author of this paper, C.R.Jackson was project leader of INLAND side, and I was NSC's.

 

Presented at the 53rd Electric Furnace Conference

WORKING TOGETHER: LESSONS FROM
A SUCCESSFUL INLAND/NIPPON STEEL
JOINT
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

 

H. M. Pielet,* C. R. Jackson,** and M. Fujii***

* Research and Development Laboratories
Inland Steel Company, East Chicago, IN 46312

** Consultant, Whitehall, MI 49461 

*** Godo Steel, Ltd., Osaka, Japan 530

ABSTRACT

 This paper analyzes a successful international joint research and development program. From previous joint research, Inland Steel and Nippon Steel had learned that certain prerequisites were necessary for effective joint work.
 The paper discusses these prerequisites, the importance of understanding both the language and the context of communication, and the characteristics of an effective team; and explains how they were achieved.

INTRODUCTION

 With technical capability now spread around the world, the appropriate partner for joint development is as likely to be across an ocean as next door.
 Therefore, in September, 1983, Inland Steel and Nippon Steel began a joint research and development program to learn to continuously-cast lead- and bismuth-bearing free-machining steels.
 By the end of the program in August, 1987, we had developed the process and commercialized the product within budget and on schedule.
 In an international joint research and development program, the team members are separated by geography, language, and culture.
 Success requires careful attention to the fundamental principles of teamwork. From previous joint research, Inland Steel and Nippon Steel had learned that certain prerequisites were necessary for effective joint work.
 In this paper, we discuss these prerequisites, the importance of understanding both the language and the context of communication, and the characteristics of an effective team, and explain how we achieved them.

****** Partly omission ******

CONDITIONS FOR EFFECTIVE
COMMUNICATION

 Since the project spanned two languages and two continents, we paid considerable attention to achieving effective communication.
 Communications research indicates that participants must understand both the language and the context of the communication.
Understanding the Language of the Communication --- At the beginning of the program, written communications were more direct than spoken communication.
 Since Japanese study English for ten years, from middle-high school through university, they read and write English well. (The Implementation Plan has 'objectives' because the Nippon Steel participants objected to the sports connotation of the word 'goal'.)
 Japanese do not deal as well with spoken English. Americans generally do not study Japanese.
 Therefore, written communications were in English.
 In contrast, face-to-face meetings were more complicated.
 At the initial technical meetings, translators who were Nippon Steel employees translated everything.
 They adjusted how much they would translate at one time and the tone of their translation to the nature and intent of the speaker.
 The technical and legal conversations at these foundation-laying meetings actually benefitted from the slower pace that resulted from using a translator

 Inland participants adopted the Nippon Steel practice of pausing for internal consultations, then funneling the conversation through the one person on their side who was leading a particular topic.
 This increased the clarity of communication by allowing differences on each side to be sorted out quickly in a single language so that only agreed ideas were presented for translation.

 As the program went on, many of the Nippon Steel participants made so much progress learning to speak English from language tapes and from company-supplied instructors, that, when an Inland participant couldnt find his car in the OHare Airport parking lot, the Nippon Steel visitor commented, You arent a re-searcher, you are just a searcher. Although the Inland participants didnt do nearly as well in learning Japanese, the Nippon Steel participants very much appreciated the effort that they made.

 As the Nippon Steel participants learned English, they began doing without a translator in meetings at Inland, and serving themselves as translators in meetings at Nippon Steel.
 By the middle of the program, while only some of the English was being translated into Japanese, all of the Japanese was being translated into English. Eventually, the language of the program for both writing and speaking was English.

 Phone calls were difficult because there are few nonverbal cues and because the two speakers can't readily get help from a translator. Therefore, for communications between meetings, the Nippon Steel participants preferred written communication. The Inland participants resisted written communication because it was slower and more formal than speaking.
 Fortunately, Fax machines became readily accessible and convenient during the course of the program. This allowed informal communication between the Inland and Nippon Steel participants.

Understanding the Context of the Communication -- As Tomiura notes, "It is essential that both parties strive for a better understanding of each other's technologies, strategies, customs, and manners."[2] In Communications jargon, these provide the 'context' for understanding each other's messages.

 In one significant area, the Inland and Nippon Steel participants already had a common context for communication. All of them were technical personnel in steel companies. This ensured both a common technical language and similar educational backgrounds.
 To prepare for meeting each other, each group compiled biography pages with both their technical and personal backgrounds. The personal information was helpful in starting conversations about common interests such as children, gardening, etc.
 A potential difference in 'culture' was the difference between the job levels of the Inland and Nippon Steel participants. The Inland participants were mostly working level people who made the calculations, tested the equipment, and carried out the decisions.
 In contrast, the Nippon Steel participants who were responsible for the joint program and who interacted directly with the Inland participants were mostly managers responsible for many subordinates.
 Therefore, the Inland participants were initially concerned about how their Nippon Steel counterparts would accept them. In fact, they received Inland's designated participants warmly.
 Friendships developed between the Inland participants and both the Nippon Steel managers with corresponding roles in the program, and the Nippon Steel working-level participants with corresponding job functions in plant operations.
 The major difference between the Inland and Nippon Steel participants was the difference between their cultures. To better communicate across that difference, both groups tried to teach their own culture and learn the other's culture.
 Nippon Steel carries on an ongoing effort to communicate an understanding of the Japanese to foreign colleagues. They publish articles on Japanese culture and society in Nippon Steel News, which is widely distributed to foreign associates. They give foreign visitors a Nippon Steel-sponsored book on Japanese customs, [9] host Japanese-style dinners, show visitors a Japanese tea ceremony, take them on tours to Japanese scenic and cultural highlights, take them to hot spas, etc.
 The cumulative effect is of a deep pride in their country and culture, and a sincere effort to make themselves understandable and available to foreigners. Inland had no similar organized efforts to introduce foreign associates to American customs. This task was left to the individual Inland team members.
 On their first visit to Japan, the Inland team members spent a weekend in Kyoto to help them better understand Japanese respect for tradition and natural beauty.
 They read and circulated items from the current literature on 'understanding the Japanese'. The Bibliography lists several items that they found helpful.

 CONDITIONS FOR EFFECTIVE TEAMWORK

 There were three teams -- the Inland team, the Nippon Steel team, and the Joint Program team. For success, all three had to function effectively.
 It has been suggested that Japanese are more likely to place a high value on logic and harmony, while Americans are more likely to value ideals and action.[10]
 According to Hamaguchi, Japanese value mutual dependence, mutual reliance, and interpersonal relations as ends in themselves.[11]
 As illustrated at the top of Fig. 1, people with this value system, which he calls 'Contextualism' believe that interactions with others take place within their own 'life space'. Thus this value system results in an overlapping, cooperative interaction between people.
 In contrast, he finds that westerners value ego-centeredness and self-reliance, and regard interpersonal relations as a means of looking after one's own interests.
 As illustrated at the bottom of Fig. 1, people with the second value system, which he calls 'Individualism', do not believe that their interactions with others take place within their own 'life space'.
 Therefore, functioning as part of a group is more natural to Japanese than to Americans. Our challenge in this program was to form an effective team of participants with different attitudes towards joint work.
 As the program proceeded, the Inland and Nippon Steel participants did begin to feel part of an inter-company Joint Program Team. (Table V lists nine elements that helped make it)
Importance and Clarity of the Objectives -- The Implementation Plan provided clear objectives. Management of both companies continued to support the program. It was clear that the results were urgently needed.
People Who Have Enough Expertise and Skills to Meet Key Role Requirements -- Both companies selected participants from the Research, Quality, Steelmaking, and Engineering departments to ensure that those skills and support groups were readily available to the team, and because those departments would be required to implement the program's results. Sales, Legal, and Rolling Mill personnel were involved when they were needed.
 In addition to actually doing the group's work, group 'task' and 'maintenance' roles must be also be filled for a group to accomplish its objectives. At the same time, negative individual roles must be avoided. [3,12] The main participants each filled several (mostly positive) roles.
Moderate Similarities and Differences -- People who are moderately similar but are enough different to find each other interesting seem to form the best relationships.[12]
 Optimum Size -- Communications research suggests five as the optimum group size -- large enough to include members with a variety of skills, and with an odd number to prevent stalemate in discussions.[3]
 As it happened, the core Inland working group consisted of five members -- two from Research and one each from Quality, Operating, and Engineering. At first, the Joint Program Team had essentially two members -- "their side" and "our side".
 As interpersonal relationships developed, the leaders, the researchers, the operators, the engineers, and the quality people from each company developed joint interests and positions that crossed company boundaries.
 Thus the 'number' of points of view was considerably fewer than the number of participants around the table.
 Both companies had core team members with official roles in the Joint Program, and others who participated in the portions of the program that required their particular expertise. Involving these temporary participants in decision making was difficult for the Inland participants.
 The difficulty of separating the temporary participants from the core team showed up at Inland in another way as well. Nippon Steel seated additional participants behind the main conference table.
 The participants changed seats as the topic of the meeting changed. Inland tried the concept, but those not seated at the table resented what they perceived as second-class status.
An Environment That Promotes Group Interaction -- Physically, we were separated by a 12-hour plane ride and a 14-hour time difference. As best we could, we made up for the separation by frequent trips by both large and small groups across the Pacific and within Japan.
 The Inland participants determined when to go to Japan by asking if they would have a meeting if the partner was down the hall or in Pittsburgh, then reducing the frequency of meetings and number of and participants only as needed to fit within the (large) travel budget, the physical stamina of the participants, and the good will of their families.
 Meeting rooms at Nippon Steel were larger and more likely to feature square tables, which allow better eye contact between participants than the oblong tables prevalent at Inland.
 Seating distance seemed greater in Japan in formal meetings and dinners, but closer in informal settings than in the U.S.
 Meetings in Japan helped to focus the participants on working with each other. Day and night attention to one's job is typical at Nippon Steel.
 Many of the managers were away from their families because they had been transferred between the various steel plants and the Head Office in Tokyo.
 Since the Inland participants were also away from home, they could spend evenings getting to know the Nippon Steel participants.


Norms That Help a Group to Work
-- 'Norms' are guidelines for behavior that groups establish, both overtly and implicitly, that govern how members act as they participate in the group.[3]
 The primary norms in the Joint Program Team were courtesy, commitment, and hard work. The social, working, and problem-solving norms that we developed are summarized in Table VII.

Social Norms:
  • Courtesy
Social Norms -- Inland personnel had been treated very kindly and courteously on previous visits to Japan. As a result, Inland put the Nippon Steel visitors' names on hard hats, provided them with name badges, and presented them with mementos of their visit.
 Mutual courtesies included picking up visitors at the airport, providing name placards at meetings and clean gloves for plant visits, and taking each other to dinners, sightseeing tours, and regular visits to singing bars in both Japan and Chicago.
  • Designated 'host' for social functions
 In Japan, the Nippon Steel participants incorporated the Inland Steel participants into their regular evening schedule of dinner and singing bars.  Generally, the two groups separated on weekends. In contrast, in the United States, the Inland participants expected to spend most week-nights privately with their families, but often invited the Nippon Steel participants to join them on weekends.
 The Nippon Steel participants were surprised at the variety of the Inland participants' after-work activities.
  • Visits to each other's homes
 Each side adapted to their own style some of the other's social norms. Inland adopted Nippon Steel's practice of having a 'host' at both meetings and social functions, who felt responsible for the ease and comfort of his 'guests'.
 Meetings and dinners began and ended with greetings by the highest-ranking members from each side. Nippon Steel's welcome tea with the Vice-President became Inland's coffee and donuts with the Vice-President. Inland's coffee and donuts with the Research staff became Nippon Steel's coffee and donuts with the Steelmaking Manager's staff.
 Thus each was courteous in similar, but comfortable ways.
Working Norms
  • Hard Work
  • Competition to contribute
Working Norms -- Hard work norms were established in the initial stage of the program when Nippon Steel proposed a very tight timetable for exchanging technical information and developing the Implementation Plan.
  Within one month, we posed questions of interest to each other, and in response collected, organized, and transmitted what we knew about free-machining steel.
 When the first Inland package was thicker than the first Nippon Steel package, a second Nippon Steel package was produced before the first joint meeting.
 Thus competition also became a norm, but only to excel in courteousness and hard work.
  • Working hours

 Inland Operating
 people-early

 Inland Research
 people-late

 NipponSteel         people-early and                   late

 The participants had different expectations of how closely the daily schedule would be followed. Nippon Steel personnel expected plant experiments to run on schedule.
 When they sometimes did not, the General Manager pointed out that, since the words "steelmaking" and "success" sound the same in Japanese, the phrase "Steelmaking means waiting" also means "Good things come to those who wait." Being comfortable with schedule changes, Inland personnel began referring to the 'current schedule'.
 There was also a significant difference in the sleeping habits of the participants.
 The Inland Research participants tended to be evening people, while the Inland Operating participants tended to be morning people.
 The Nippon Steel participants on the other hand, seemed to be morning-and-evening people. Typically, therefore, the Inland Research participants would accompany the Nippon Steel participants to singing bars, and the Inland Operating participants would meet them for breakfast.
Problem-Solving Norms

Consensus leadership

 

Problem-Solving Norms -- A consensus leadership style, consensus decision-making, and collaborative conflict resolution were important, interrelated contributors to effective problem-solving.

Consensus Leadership Style -- Organizing the program as a collaborative effort by equal partners led naturally to cooperative leadership.
 The role of the leaders was to see that the work assigned to each side was carried out effectively and reported clearly; to see that each side came to joint meetings thoroughly prepared, ready to present their viewpoints, and ready to listen to other points of view; to develop trust between each other; to promote trust among the team members; and to see that decisions were made by mutual agreement.
 For example, the leader of the Nippon Steel team asked the leader of the Inland team to join him at the head of the table during joint meetings in Japan.
 This was a powerful symbol that, regardless of the location of the meeting, the program was a joint program in which the leaders would lead together and the two sides would make decisions together.

Consensua decision-making

Consensus Decision-Making -- Communications literature indicates that participation in the decision-making process is particularly desirable when a new problem is being addressed, when the quality of a group's decisions are important, and when implementation of decisions depends on acceptance by all of the group's members.[3,12,13]
 This is especially true in joint work, because each side has knowledge and talents that are needed for success. Therefore, by contract and by desire, decisions were to be made by mutual agreement.
 

 Before going to Japan, the Inland team did a group 'consensus' exercise. First as individuals, and then as a team, items were selected for their value in surviving a hostile climate.[14]
 The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate that groups make better decisions than individuals, and to prepare for what seemed to be the 'Japanese' style of decision-making.

 Depending on how the concept of 'consensus' decision making is understood and applied (or misapplied), it has been both praised and excoriated at Inland.
 The dictionary definition of consensus is "general agreement, or unanimity." Verderber defines it as "total group agreement."[3] Beebe and Masterson state that consensus occurs "when all group members agree with and are committed to" a decision.[12]
 However, 'group think', in which members agree to an unexamined and unrealistic course of action,[12] also meets these definitions of consensus. We think that these definitions are inadequate because they describe the end result, but provide no information about how to achieve it.
 

 We believe that the key to consensus is not what it is, but how it is achieved. In the Joint Program, all of the affected participants openly stated their needs and abilities, and committed themselves to developing a course of action that met everyone's needs.
 Since the participants' needs were sometimes in conflict, or even appeared to be mutually exclusive, achieving consensus usually required a creative solution. Achieving this type of consensus required commitment, creativity, and good will.
 

 In response to a survey questionnaire after the Joint Program was completed, Inland participants felt that making decisions by consensus was a key factor in the program's success. 

Collaborative conflict resolition

-Resolving conflicts as questions of facts and values, not egos

 

-Respect for all of the participants'ideas

 

-Elimination of yes-no thinking

 

-Inclusion of all potential solutions that may work and won't hurt

 

-Respect for data

Collaborative Conflict Resolution -- An important test of a group's ability is how it deals with the conflicts that inevitably arise when people feel deeply about their work.
 A properly-resolved conflict can result in creative solutions and a stronger team. Left unresolved, a conflict over a fact can escalate to a conflict over values and finally to a conflict in which egos, rather than facts, control the actions of the participants.[3,12]

 Since the development program was carried out on Nippon Steel's caster, they could have chosen their own way when proposed courses of action conflicted. Instead, they set a splendid example of collaborative conflict resolution, which was in fact an extension of consensus decision-making. 

 Generally, conflicts were resolved as questions of fact. In our only value-conflict, Inland personnel wanted to include in the Implementation Plan a replication of the final heat.
 Nippon Steel personnel, however, were confident that their steelmaking and casting practices were so carefully controlled that expensive replication was unnecessary.
 We agreed that, if Inland wanted, at the end of the program, Nippon Steel would make and sell additional heats at cost. No conflict was allowed to escalate to one in which egos rather than facts and values were the primary issue.

 The American attitude that every problem has a single cause and a single solution can lead to excessive conflict.
 Japanese characterize this as 'yes/no thinking', and avoid it. In one case, a preliminary trial cast of leaded steel at Nippon Steel resulted in periodic ejections of liquid steel from the casting mold, accompanied by a loud 'popping' noise.
 Based on their laboratory experiments, Nippon Steel researchers proposed a potential solution, while Inland participants, based on their own experiments and experience offered several other possible solutions.
 Since there was no serious drawback to adopting all of the proposed countermeasures, they were all adopted for the next cast, which was successful. It was then left to subsequent experiments to determine if any of the countermeasures could be eliminated.
 This experience taught the importance of respecting all participants' ideas and the elimination of yes/no thinking.

 In another case, the Inland and Nippon Steel teams made conflicting proposals for the type of system to be used to transport the lead to the tundish.
 Although the Nippon Steel members were sure that the method they proposed was simplest and best, they did not yet have data to support their proposal.
 In contrast, the Inland members had already tested their proposed feeding system at Inland, and presented the test results.
 After considerable internal discussion by the Nippon Steel participants, the Inland proposal was adopted.
 This experience illustrates the great importance Japanese engineers give to experimental data.[15] This respect for data was adopted throughout the program.
 

 Whenever conflicts arose, we used a problem-solving approach to focus on the problem and on the facts, and worked together to find a solution

Free Interaction to Reach a Decision -- Groups function best when all of the members interact freely to develop decisions. However, because of the long distance between us, our meetings were relatively infrequent.
 Therefore, when we did meet, each group had to carefully prepare and present their proposals. Since both sides came together with well-thought-out but somewhat different courses of action, we had to carefully analyze and discuss each other's proposals.
 While the practice of funneling the conversation through one person at a time on each side prevented free interaction across the table, we made up for this restriction by informal individual discussions with our counterparts at lunches, dinners, and after-hours get-togethers.
 Although we were given great freedom, management at each company sometimes inserted themselves into decision-making. On one occasion, Inland personnel found that they had to change what they had already agreed to. A few messages and phone calls, and Nippon Steel's good will resulted in an agreement that satisfied Inland management.
 The Nippon Steel participants signed reports to Nippon Steel management with their department name. Thus the responsibility and accomplishment was organizational. That may explain why Tokyo Head Office personnel, plant management personnel, and technical management personnel were all directly involved in most of the significant decisions.
 The Inland participants signed their own names. One phone call back to Chicago obtained approval for a large plant test at Inland.
 On the other hand, Nippon Steel's departments may have provided more consistent support to their representatives.
 

Commitment to a Specific Task -- An outstanding characteristic of the Joint Program Team members was their commitment to the program's success. This was possible because of the clarity of the objectives, the continued importance given to the project by Management, and the urgent need for the results. As we proceeded, a group dynamic developed in which each participant became almost obsessively committed to achieving the overall objectives.

 

Functioning as a Cohesive Unit -- Group cohesiveness results from satisfying the other characteristics of an effective group. The importance of our task and the similarity between corresponding members contributed to the establishment of cohesiveness between the Inland and Nippon Steel participants.
 The shared experiences in the program, and the norms of courtesy and mutual respect met our interpersonal needs for feeling that we were "liked, included, and respected." [16]
 In fact, a problem identified at the end of the program was that most of the Inland participants had become somewhat estranged from their home departments.

 Mutual trust is an important measure of group cohesiveness. One type of trust is trust that we would each do what we said we would do. Since this trust is based on facts, we achieved it readily.
 Another type of trust is trust that we would each share results of support work that we undertook as a matter of interest or perceived need.
 Differences in willingness to share work in progress, and differences in thinking understanding about the scope of the program, made this type of trust difficult to achieve.
 The impression that the other party is holding back information is an obstacle that needs to be dealt with by careful delineation of the scope of the collaboration.[17]
 A third type of trust is interpersonal trust. This type of trust can perhaps best be estimated by the close friendships that developed during the program.
 We believe that the gracious invitations to each other's homes and to meet each other's families were true indications of friendship.
 Most of the Inland participants' wives visited Japan, and their children studied each Japanese culture. During the program, we shared our hopes and concerns for our technical careers and for our private lives.
 Although Nippon Steel's cultural handbook clearly states that Japanese businessmen do not invite visitors to their homes, [9] visits to each others' homes became regular high points of our trips. Personal correspondence has continued long after the program ended.
 Finally, it should be emphasized that trust takes time.[12] To the extent that we achieved it, we achieved it by nurturing it carefully and giving it enough time.

 

RESULTS
 In terms of the task, the Joint Program was clearly a success. From the first technical exchange to the completion of the Implementation Plan, the program demanded -- and we met -- a very tight schedule.
 We overcame the problems of bismuth mold explosions, lead segregation, and product quality. blank.gif (828 バイト)By the end of the program in 1987, we had developed the process and commercialized the product -- within budget and on schedule. Since 1984, Nippon Steel and Inland Steel have continuously-cast more than three million Mg of lead-and bismuth-bearing steel with this technology.
 In terms of the people, the Joint Program was also clearly a success. In addition to having the characteristics of an effective team, we felt like we were an effective team -- an experience against which we will measure all our future activities.
 We broadened our outlook and made good friends both at home and overseas. Most of us were promoted, in part because of our achievements in this program.
 In terms of the companies, the Inland Steel-Nippon Steel relationship continued to flourish with additional joint work and the establishment of two joint manufacturing facilities -- I/N Tek and I/N Kote.

 

DISCUSSION
 As presented above, we set up both the program and the team to have the prerequisites for success. At the same time, we worked hard to learn to communicate between different languages and cultures.
 As a result, we developed an effective inter-company team that was completely committed to the success of the program. While all of the prerequisites for success and for effective communication and teamwork were important, three were the keys to all of the others.
 First, having agreed-upon, clear objectives was absolutely critical to the success of the program.
 Everything that preceded the definition of these objectives was devoted to developing them.
 Everything that followed flowed from them.
 The preliminary contacts and technical exchanges developed the common understanding of the technology and the mutual understanding of each others' needs that allowed us to develop such objectives.
 The Implementation Plan, the Contract, and the commitment of the participants flowed from it. As questions came up during the program, the Implementation Plan and the Contract almost always contained the answers.

 Second, organizing the program carefully and clearly at the beginning made our subsequent work smoother.
 The time and effort that we put into preparing for the program, developing the Implementation Plan, negotiating the Contract, and encouraging socialization among the participants was well repaid throughout the program.

 Third, mutual respect permeated every aspect of the program and made it possible. It was so fundamental that, without reflection, we wouldn't have thought to list it.
 The self-confidence of the Inland participants at the start of the technical exchange was important -- self-confidence is a prerequisite for mutual respect.
 Mutual respect also made consensus decision-making and collaborative conflict resolution possible. In turn, consensus decision-making, particularly as practiced and taught by the Nippon Steel participants, led to increased respect and commitment.

 

CONCLUSIONS
 Care in organizing the Joint Program and the efforts we made to understand each other and work together fostered the type of interpersonal relations that helped us carry out a successful program. Tomiura, Winkler and Halley, and the few additions we have made provide a checklist for ensuring the potential for success.
 Understanding the context of communication is especially important in an international program.  Finally, Communications research provides a checklist for periodic review to see that the team is functioning effectively, and concepts for finding and repairing sources of difficulty.
 Although presented in the context of an international joint program, we believe that these principles are important for all joint work. We show their interrelation in a model for productive joint work shown in Fig. 2.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
 The writers acknowledge the help of the many, many people who contributed to the Joint Program, and particularly Tadahisa Akasawa, Debanshu Bhattacharya, Larry Frank, T. Hinata, John Knoepke, John Lude, Joel Mastervich, Teruo Mifune, John Mulesa, Dan Rellis, Norm Robins, Eiichi Oka, Lynn Vea, Hiroshi Yaguchi, and Warren Yalowitz.
 The program's success and therefore the possibility of writing this paper belongs to them. We also thank Inland Steel and Nippon Steel for permission to publicly share this analysis.