The courage to disclose one’s own weaknesses and failures creates a winning organization—Rakuten Culture Café Report: Winning Culture Seminar, Vol. 2, by Ryuji Nakatake

The Rakuten Group’s Culture Café initiative, comprising joint online lunchtime sessions that allow employees to casually share various ideas and experiences over lunch, was introduced to support connections among employees amid the coronavirus pandemic. The aim of the initiative is to enhance the understanding of the company’s culture and expand relationships among employees.

On July 29, 2021, the Culture Café welcomed Mr. Ryuji Nakatake, Rakuten People & Culture Lab advisor and Teambox Corporation CEO, who spoke on the theme of “Winning Culture,” namely organizations with winning habits. This report is being shared as a two-part series.

This column is the second installment of the series: “The courage to disclose one’s own weaknesses and failures creates a winning organization.”

This session was based on the content of Nakatake’s book, “Winning Culture: Creating People and Organizations with Winning Habits,” which was published in February 2021.

One of the questions that was posed to Mr. Ryuji Nakatake during a Culture Café session was: How should you go about creating a culture that brings a team together and leads it to one direction? This inquiry provides us with a starting point from which to introduce Mr. Nakatake’s views on “winning culture.”

There is no single pattern for winning organizational cultures

Winning cultures have an atmosphere, or general mood, that naturally fosters winning. To be more specific, a winning culture is an organizational culture that naturally exerts a positive impact on performance.

A winning culture is not created in accordance with any specific pattern. This is because, depending on what type of members there are in the organization, the direction in which the team moves as it forms will differ. When the leader of the organization is conscious of winning, he or she will naturally focus on pulling the team together and aligning the direction.

But does “pulling the team together and aligning the direction” really deliver results? Conversely, do team members believe that it does?

To determine whether the ideal of pulling a team together really applies to your team, you must first question this assumption. Accordingly, in order to ascertain what your winning culture is, you must reexamine even what you may feel to be the most natural of assumptions.

For example, the idea of “one team” may not suit some of the members that make up an organization. Also, when deadlines for achieving goals are tight, the significant amount of time and effort required to pull together individuals with differing personalities and preferences as “one team” may be better spent in other areas.

In school sports the effort required to pull teams together tends to be significant because of the frequent turnover of members every few years due to enrollment and graduation. In such situations, one possible approach is to forego attempting to bring the team together and instead seek wins through its overwhelming individual strengths, even though this may result in a team with an awkward, uneasy atmosphere. But if you can imagine how the members of such a team, even if it were to win, would likely not be happy, you can choose to build a team that aims to become “one team.”

What is important is to narrow down the various options you can choose from, and determine what your winning culture is.

Getting interested in what people are interested in

So, what is the first thing you should do to find your winning culture? The answer is to take an interest in what the other members of your team are interested in.

As I mentioned in my previous article, organizational culture starts with the sharing of emotions among members. When they gain a mutual understanding of what others want to do, what they like or dislike, and what kind of team they’d like to become, they can begin to envision the kind of organizational culture that they would like to aim to achieve.

Taking an interest in what people are interested in is something that can be put into practice when providing direction. Assume, for example, you were offering guidance to a team member, saying that you would like for them to act in accordance with the organization’s objectives. Even in situations such as this, it is important to take an interest in the other person and engage in a dialogue. This is because true learning can only take place in an environment in which the person being instructed is able to take the initiative, not the person doing the instructing.

You can begin by engaging in one-on-one conversations and having meals together, which will enable you to learn what the other person likes, wants to do, and wants to become. From there, you should determine the distance between your own management perspective and that of the other person, and work to bridge this gap through ongoing dialogue. In this way, you will be able to naturally align with your objectives—in other words, get closer to winning—while making the most of the other person’s emotions.

The courage to disclose your own weaknesses

In addition to taking an interest in the interests of others, it’s possible to get them to take an interest in you. The way to do this is to disclose things about yourself.

To some extent, disclosing information about yourself can be frightening. It is even more so when you share your own weaknesses.

You could say that disclosing your own weaknesses symbolizes an act of courage. Within a team, such behavior is contagious, which is why it should be the team’s leader that takes the initiative in disclosing their own weaknesses. When a leader acts in this way, it makes it easier for the other members to follow suit, facilitating the sharing of deeper emotions within the team.

Organizations that share their mistakes, and learn from them

Disclosing one’s own weaknesses can also be practiced with regard to mistakes, specifically with how they are perceived and addressed.

Sharing one’s own failures is something that is inherently hard to do. But what would happen if we were to fundamentally change the way we perceive mistakes, viewing them as “good tries” instead of “mistakes”? Eliminating the negative perception associated with mistakes, that they should be considered something we should regret, would make it easier for members to disclose their mistakes.

Keeping mistakes to oneself can lead to irreversible conditions for a team that are difficult to remedy, bringing about a significant negative impact on the team’s performance. But by disclosing mistakes, this can be prevented. In addition, by disclosing your own mistakes, you can help to prevent other team members from making the same mistakes.

Furthermore, the lessons you learn through failures over the course of the challenges you face make it easier to take a positive outlook toward future prospects. And since members will be able to act without reluctance, this naturally leads to winning.

Although winning cultures can take various forms depending on the team, these approaches to creating a winning culture share some common key concepts, namely “interest in the interests of others” and “disclosure.” If these elements are handled with care, a winning culture can be created in most any situation.

The pattern that a winning culture takes will depend on the kind of people in the organization. Accordingly, in order to determine the appropriate winning culture for your organization, it is essential that you get to know the members who are in it.

Taking an interest in the interests of others could be considered to be a practical and concrete means of sharing emotions, which is indispensable for team-building. In addition, creating conditions in which you can disclose your own weaknesses and mistakes can be viewed as providing a psychologically safe environment.

Organizations with winning habits are not realized through cold calculations with no regard for emotions, but rather are based on very human emotional connections.

About Ryuji Nakatake

CEO of Teambox Inc., Vice Managing Director of Japan Wheelchair Rugby Federation, Managing Director of Sports Coaching Japan Association

Born in 1973 in Fukuoka prefecture, Japan. After graduating from Waseda University, completed graduate studies at the University of Leicester. After serving at Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc., was appointed as the director of the rugby club at Waseda University. In 2010, Nakatake became the coaching director, leading leaders as a “coach of coaches” in the Japan Rugby Football Union. From 2012 to 2015, he was head coach of the U20 Japan national team and served as the substitutional head coach of the Japan national team in 2016. In 2014, Nakatake founded Teambox Inc. to provide training services for company leaders and, in 2018, launched the Sports Coaching Association, where he serves as managing director, creating and encouraging learning opportunities for coaches.

Winning Culture: Creating People and Organizations with Winning Habits (in Japanese), by Ryuji Nakatake.