The Ringiseido, « decision-making by consensus », is based on the fact that teams are included in the decision-making process while maintaining and respecting hierarchical relationships.
One of the most important aspects of Japanese culture is the Ringiseido which translates to “consensus decision-making “. The Ringiseido principle is based on the fact that teams are included in the decision-making process while maintaining and respecting hierarchical relationships. As all parties are included in the process, the decision is successful and failure or success can not be attributed to a responsible person, but to all.
A Japanese tradition
The Ringiseido is an essential concept in Japanese management, where the individual contribution is put in the background behind the success of the group, what the Japanese call the « Narugakae »1 (« the total person », in other words, the group trains a person).
« Probably the most important point of what one has to remember from the Japanese is their instinctive capacity of the principle of consensus. Personal satisfaction at the expense of collective well-being is considered to be clearly reprehensible. »2
This culture is rooted in the traditions of the Japanese family. At one time, the head of the family was in charge of making all the decisions. As time has gone by, this has evolved, and now the head of the family is more interested in harmony (the « wa ») and the consensus that the maintenance of his authority. It is this same transformation that has occurred in the operation of Japanese companies3.
Accompanied by an instinct of loyalty and respect of the hierarchy, the Ringi process allows a positive synergy between all the people and pushes everyone to accept the final decision.
The Ringi process
To fully understand this notion, it is necessary to dissect the term of Ringi. Literally, « Rin » results in submitting a proposal to his superiors, and « Gi » results in deliberations and decisions. In other words, consensus is achieved both horizontally and vertically.
In general, top management does not give directives but only recommendations. Each manager at his level must always refer to his superior for important decisions. For this, they must follow the procedure of the Ringi then must write a specific document, the Ringisho (translated by « document circulation »). The Ringisho describes the issue to be decided and makes recommendations on the decision to be taken.
Once written, the Ringisho is distributed to all those likely to be affected by the decision as well as to the superiors. The organization of the hierarchy is reduced to 4 stages to simplify the procedure.
Source : J. M Prax (2012) – Manuel du knowledge management
Each person evaluates the Ringisho and affixes his « Hanko » (« seal », often preferred to the signature). A Hanko in the place means acceptance, a Hanko in reverse rejection and a Hanko on the side indicates indifference to the decision made. The final decision is made when the superior has affixed his Hanko.
Given the limited involvement of senior management in the process, combined with the pressure of the group that has already affixed its Hanko, it is clear that the decision is ultimately made by the authors of the Ringisho. This process called « Nemawashi » is defined as a political process by which unofficial approval is reached before a final decision is made4.
The origin of the term Nemawashi comes from horticulture. « Ne » means root and « mawasu » means to turn around. It’s a process to move adult trees safely :
Nemawashi in horticulture
Nemawashi in business
One or two years before moving, dig the soil around the plant. The longest roots are cut and the main roots are barked.
This is to prevent all the people impacted by the Ringisho and to initiate a favorable atmosphere for future exchanges.
We replant the tree in the same place and leave it until small roots grow.
The first step allowed to “ sow ” the idea of the project which gradually will make its way in the minds and exchanges for the moment always informal.
When there are enough small roots, we move the tree as originally planned.
Once an informal consensus has been reached, the Ringisho is written in its ultimate version and proposed to the “ signature ” to everyone up to the highest level..
Thus, before the Ringisho reaches the highest level of decision-making, it “turns” between many hands and formal and informal exchange of ideas (usually around a evening sake) take place. The author of the Ringisho rewrites the document as it goes along, allowing to take into account all the opinions and to make sure to have the informal approval. If the author can not obtain this approval before the last “signature“, the author removes it from the process.
Due to this particular process, the superior has a reduced freedom of action: he can not come to any idea or make a decision unless he acts by a subordinate, because traditionally, the Ringi must begin at a lower level and then back up. In addition, once the Ringisho is accepted, it does not offer an alternative. His power is therefore limited to making the decision recommended by the Ringisho.
1 – R. R. Khan (1991) – Japanese management : a critical appraisal
2 – R. C. Christopher (1983) – The Japanese mind
3 – J. B. Keys, L. T. Denton, T. R. Miller (1994) – The Japonese management theory jungle-revisited
4 – P. F. Drucker (1971) – Whar can we learn from Japanese management
D. Flouzat (2004) – Japon, éternelle renaissance