Team Building in Japan

Japan: Team Building Retreats

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President
Executive Oasis International 

The world is shrinking and, in these turbulent economic times, companies are looking beyond their borders for solutions to business challenges. From traditional to modern, Japan offers: 

  • a wide variety of possibilities for team building themes
  • many options for recreational activities and excursions to flesh out your theme
  • the facilities to pull off a team building retreat, business meeting or conference flawlessly

Here is what one company did during their leadership retreat in Japan:

To help your company “stay ahead of the curve”, field trips and factory tours to uncover ultra-modern new technology can also be built into your agenda. From vending machines to wireless technology to electronic games, Japanese companies are sometimes years ahead of their counterparts in other areas of the world.

Here is an example. Yaskawa-kun, a full-size Japanese robot in a vending machine, sings and prepares ice cream treats to customer specifications.

I actually “met” this cute little robot, on Twitter when I discovered that @yaskawakun had re-tweeted this article and started to follow me. Don’t be surprised if you eventually see something similar at Dairy Queen or even Lick’s the Canadian hamburger chain at which workers sing when they prepare burgers.

Field trips will also give your team an opportunity to observe Japanese style management in action. You can also have an opportunity to round out your agenda with keynote speakers and panels can focusing Japanese business practices, Kaizen, TQM, Six Sigma, and lean manufacturing.

This video was not shot in Japan. However, Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers, introduces how an American company applies the same lean manufacturing processes that were developed in Japan:

This video is in Japanese. We do work in Asia so some visitors to this blog will be able to understand it. If you don’t undertsand Japanese, please turn down the sound to see the types of activities Japanese companies use during sessions to introduce employees to Kaizen.

Throughout the year, in various parts of Japan, there’s an opportunity to incorporate some really interesting activities and Japanese cultural experiences into your retreat.

The key to the success of any of these activities as part of a team building retreat is to have a professional internal or external facilitator:

  • Set the context and draw clear parallels to your business challenges
  • Thoroughly debrief all activities to glean as many as possible lessons about business
  • Take the most important step of guiding your team through business application exercises to ensure that the lessons learned are applied and transferred back to your workplace.

For ideas on places to go and what to see while you are in Japan, take some time to review our other blog entries:


Here are some of the activities you can incorporate into Summer and Winter team building retreats in Japan.

Summer Team Building in Japan

Chubu – Mountains: Temperature – 21°C – 30°C (70°F – 87°F) 

During the summer, use a mountain team building theme to draw parallels between the ups and downs of the economy and the peeks and valleys of the mountains. 

Overnight camping can be arranged. A wide range of activities and team challenges can be incorporated into your team building retreat to flesh out your theme and reinforce the facilitated business exercises. These include orienteering, firestarter challenges, mountain bike races & challenges, flying fox, high ropes, rafting, trekking, rock and boulder climbing, and canyoning (even descending large waterfalls by rope and plunging into the refreshing pools below). 


 

Winter Team Building in Japan

Chubu – Mountains : 

A winter team building retreat in Japan can be used to inspire your team to look for opportunities even when times are harsh. In the winter, in addition to skiing, your team can participate in snowboarding, avalanche, and a variety of winter team challenges such as ice sculpture and snow carving contests. 


 

Team Building All Year

All year, activities that you can use for team building retreats in Japan: 

  • tea ceremony workshops
  • an iron chef challenge (with a celebrity chef if you have the budget for it)
  • sushi making team competition
  • traditional Japanese cooking
  • samurai sword making demonstration followed by facilitated debriefing and a keynote to draw parallels to business(it is a long process, a contrast to the breakneck speed at which modern corporations operate)
  • martial arts
  • projects that involve creating traditional Japanese crafts

You can also use an urban safari or Amazing Race type activity to give your team an opportunity for a reconnaissance mission in search of new and emerging technology in your industry. 

Plant visits and factory tours are also a helpful way to identify best practices that your team can take back to work with them. 

Sapporo: 

A visit to the Bread Museum of Hokuo will introduce your team to the art of Japanese style bread making and sample freshly baked bread. The debriefing can focus the business lessons that your team can learn from breadmaking.

This video is in Japanese with English sub-titles. Turn down the sound to see the process the teams will use for the bread making competition.

At Shiroi Koibito Park, a chocolate wonderland, your group can tour the factory where Shiroi Koibito cookies are manufactured. This will give your team an opportunity to reflect on how creativity and a spark of innovation can add excitement to even the most mundane processes.

When you visit the Craft Center, the team might enjoy competing to see who makes the best cookies, sugar crafts and other local treats. 

Kumamoto: Honda Factory Tour (without commentary) 

Nagoya: Toyota Factory Tour 

All companies have their ups and downs. The premise of our Visexecutaries team building session, which we first offered in Asia, is that businesses can learn from successes and failures of other companies. Don’t hesitate to tour the Toyota factory because the company has recently been navigating its way through troubled waters. There is still much to learn from Toyota.


For help in planning your team building retreat in Japan, please visit our website. Then, contact us to let us know your requirements. For the best choice of options and to allow ample time for logistics, it is best to book your retreat at least 4 – 6 months before you intend to travel: 

Anne Thornley-Brown has toured Asia 16 times and facilitated workshops and team building sessions for over 2000 executives, managers, and professionals.


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8 thoughts on “Team Building in Japan

  1. Adriene says:

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