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Reflection – Annie Wolf Mendoza

by on October 22, 2007

I have been thinking quite a bit about the scenario presented in class regarding the architecture company working with a Japanese team in Japan on a new project. The problem the CEO of the architecture company encountered was one revolving completely around cultural differences. The American team consisted of both women and men as well as people of different racial backgrounds. The project manager was a black man and one of the more actively involved team members was a woman. She was frequently involved in asking questions of the Japanese team in order to gather important information about the project. It turns out that in Japan, people of color are seen to be less credible than white people and it is not custom for women to be placed in such leadership roles. These two factors caused the Japanese team a great deal of discomfort. The project manager and the woman could sense the team’s discomfort which as a result led to their own discomfort. The whole situation was very awkward and unpleasant for everyone involved. The CEO recognized the severity of the problem and decided that he needed to take some kind of action. Essentially, he had three options. One, he could continue on with his original project team. Two, he could assign a team of all white men to the project. Third, he could cancel the project altogether.

When I first started thinking about this situation, I thought it was really clear that none of the CEO’s options were ideal. To continue on with the same project team would only create more and more discomfort, both for the Japanese and the Americans. To remove the woman and the project manager from the team would be cause for a major discrimination lawsuit, and it would forever destroy any loyalty those two employees had for the company. Canceling the project altogether might cause the Japanese to lose respect and trust for the company, making it difficult for them to enter back into the market at a later time.

Since none of these options seemed very good to me, I started thinking of some alternative options. The first alternative that came to mind was to talk privately with the project manager and the woman and find out how they felt about the situation. The CEO could find out what their perceptions of the situation were and if they had either a strong desire to stay with the project or leave and be moved to another. If they both wanted to leave, then their positions could be filled with people who wouldn’t make the Japanese uncomfortable. However, if they both wanted to stay then another solution would need to be sought.

At first I thought this was a great idea; the employees would be the ones to make the decision to stay with the project or be placed on a different team with a different project. But, the more I thought about it, the less I liked this solution. Removing the employees (even if they had asked to be moved, or stated that they would have no problem moving to another project team) would send a message to the Japanese. It would tell them that any time they felt uncomfortable with the members on the American project team, the company would do whatever necessary to ensure their comfort, even if that meant removing people from the project. This would put an enormous amount of power in the hands of the Japanese. The might start extending that power into other aspects of the project, which would not be good for the American company. It might also send a message to the employees of the American company. If they did not explain the situation thoroughly and carefully to everyone in the company, employees might begin to think that the company was discriminating against people of color and women. This belief could really destroy morale and employees’ faith in the company.

In the end, the solution I came up with was to keep things as they were. The company shouldn’t cancel the project or move any of the team members to other projects. Instead, the CEO should work hard to ensure that both the Japanese and his American employees understand the other’s culture. The CEO should make sure the Japanese understand that he has faith in his team and that their word is a good as any other team member’s. He should also make sure his team understands that the Japanese have certain biases against people of color and women that may affect members on the team.

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