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Changing Our Company Culture – A Progress Report After 7 Months

July 15, 2016

Tetsuji Yamashita
Corporate Director / CISO

Appointed the Instigator of Mitsue-Links 2.0

As mentioned by our Chairman Masashi Takahashi in his New Year greeting (in Japanese), last autumn we announced our Mitsue-Links 2.0 initiative – an update of our company culture centered around the concepts of simplification, reduced hierarchy, enhanced team commitment, visualization and leaner operation. Being appointed to spearhead the transformation, I am tasked with formulating plans and implementing ideas to ensure that the omnipresent talk of cultural change becomes a reality. The first step, I believed, was to broaden my horizons and change my own perceptions of organizations, culture and work. Therefore, I decided participate in a Management 3.0 workshop and to visit movingimage - a business partner whose company culture made a significant impression on Masashi Takahashi. So, in November 2015, I flew with two non-Japanese colleagues to Berlin to participate in a two-day Management 3.0 workshop as well as pay a visit to movingimage's office.

Inauguration of the Agile Beacon Team (ABT)

During the workshop, we learned how to manage companies in this modern era where it is very difficult to predict even the near future. With a combination of lectures, discussion and games, the workshop proved very stimulating for the three of us.

A Management 3.0 Workshop activity.

On the third day of our business trip, we visited movingimage's office where we were given an informal tour, shown their agile activities and initiatives as well as the use of various tools – we even had the opportunity to participate in a sprint review meeting! After visiting movingimage, we headed across the city to visit the offices of game company Wooga after we received an invite from a fellow 3.0 course participant and employee of the company. As we toured agile workplace environments, we learnt different forms of visualization, studied in-house methods of communication, and so on. In the three days of workshop and company visits, the three of us had been converted – we had all adopted a completely agile mindset! After returning to Japan, we had many ideas on how to deliver our Chairman's goals but first we had to decide on a name for our newly formed team as well as write a clearly stated vision, mission and values.

Team Name
Agile Beacon Team (ABT) (beacon= can have several meanings; the main meaning for us is as a signal, such as a lighthouse, for guidance. This is as we seek to be the leading light that provides direction and shows the way to company employees, but also to provide support to those who are perplexed and have lost their way. Beacon can also mean a source of inspiration, we hope to inspire our colleagues in improving the company culture to provide services that are “sanpouyoshi” - an old Japanese expression meaning good for the provider, good for the buyer and good for society.)
Team Vision
Through an agile approach, increase the quantity and quality of team communication, create autonomous high performing teams, deliver better services and solutions to clients.
Team Mission
Create a flat organization, expedite visualization of workflows, confer authority to the team, improve the work environment, support in-team efficiency optimization, share and diffuse knowledge on the agile mindset, and roll-out self-organization initiatives.
Team Values
Have an open mind, have faith in one another, accept constructive criticism、act as role models, visualize workflows, and share information and knowledge.

Mitsue-Links 2.0 Implementation

Through my experiences in Germany, I conceptualized the path that we must take to realize Mitsue-Links 2.0. For success, what is more important than anything else is to create a flat culture where staff can freely offer their own opinion regardless of official position or department. If relationships are flat in structure, team members are more likely to discuss how to progress their project work as well as openly talk about challenges – this, in turn, will initiate more team autonomy thus increasing team commitment and leaner workflows. However, it isn't so straightforward to change the existing hierarchical relationships to relationships that are flat in nature. In order to create flat relationships, I feel that the workplace environment should be designed so as to facilitate more communication, that team status and workflows are visualized, and that there are embedded customs and structures that facilitate information sharing.

Creating a Workplace Environment that Facilitates Communication

Until January of this year, all of our head of departments sat on the window-side of our office facing down on their teams – very hierarchical, like sitting at the head of the table with everyone else arranged below them. However, in January, to send out a message that internal relationships are to become flatter in nature, our head of departments are now sitting side-by-side with their team members while their former domain by the window has been transformed with the opening of the blinds, laying of a colorful carpet and placement of sofas. Next was the introduction of whiteboards and the installation of walls where we could write down our ideas. We have also introduced a coffee machine, a table football game, a photo wall and a number of other initiatives that aim to create a flatter culture and facilitate increased inter and intra-team communication.

The new office layout.

Creating Flat Teams

In January and February 2016, we carried out activities that promoted the concept of Mitsue-Links 2.0 to staff at the grassroots level. We presented at Tech Lounge (in Japanese), an internal event for sharing information, a seminar titled “So, just what is Mitsue-Links 2.0?” During the seminar, I introduced the motivation cards and delegation poker that I learned in the Management 3.0 workshop where teams worked on activities. At the beginning of the year, to further increase the awareness of the Mitsue-Links 2.0 concept as well as increase the number of supporters, we held workshops which introduced the agile mindset as well as focused on the importance of communication.

Furthermore, I believe that in order to change the culture of a company, first there is a need to change the manner of communication between upper management levels. We have now radically changed the style of our head of department meetings and we now hold workshop style meetings on various issues to facilitate and proactively stimulate communication.

In March, we held three town hall meeting style briefing sessions for staff with the focus on team commitment, visualization, communication, as well as an explanation about the importance of rapid PDCA cycles. The open style and allotted question time at the end allowed us to answer all employee questions in detail.

April, the beginning of the new fiscal year, provided opportunity to modify organizational structure, reduce the number of hierarchical layers and increase the size of the smallest teams. We also invited movingimage to our head office to give a two day workshop on how their organization has adopted scrum.

In May, I facilitated meetings for each team performing web-integration work – the goal of the meetings was to create work-specific skill maps that allowed the clear visualization of team competencies. The visualization then allowed each team member to see where they needed to improve; members then individually set goals to advance current skills and develop new skills as well as formulate the plans to do so. I believe this was the first step on the path to team self-organization.

In June, the Mitsue-Links 2.0 Supporter Circle was established to provide support and offer feedback to ABT in delivering our Chairman's goals. The Circle brings together people with a great passion for the implementation of Mitsue-Links 2.0 and we hope that members will prove a great ally in sharing knowledge and building networks throughout the entire company.

Mitsue-Links 2.0 in the Future

We, the ABT, are striving for success in the deliverance of Mitsue-Links 2.0. We are realizing the concept of Mitsue-Links 2.0 throughout the company by performing the above-mentioned activities as well as working with several teams and participating in several projects in the role of scrum masters.

Despite us having little experience as scrum masters, we are extremely passionate. We are proactively developing our knowledge and skills as well as motivation through intense study, running our own skill-up sessions, participating in external workshops and events, and through repeated trial and error.

In a manner not dissimilar to agile, working on short iterations, we are advancing step-by-step. As only 7 months have passed since the visit to Germany, I believe that we have already made much progress.

Regarding our future activities, we will not only share the information internally but also externally through a newly created Mitsue-Links 2.0 blog (in Japanese). The blog will be regularly updated with content from the three Agile Beacon Team members - if you are interested, please take a look.