Honda Motor Company has become a good example of a culture that supports organizational learning. In the August 1 issue of strategy+business, in an article titled “For Honda, Waigaya Is the Way”, Jeffrey Rothfeder describes how Honda has learned to solve problems. Waigaya is a decision-making meeting of key stakeholders that can be called on a moment’s notice or can be continued over a period of months, until a decision is made.
Participation in waigaya requires learning how to act in egalitarian groups that might include a member's superiors and direct reports. It means speaking up and offering ideas without threat of retribution. This is a strikingly different kind of experience, with different rules and norms, from the typical work team. Rothfeder offers this explanation:
Although waigaya may seem too free-form to be productive and may appear to lack a leadership component strong enough to produce real results, these meetings actually have an organizing framework that, at least in theory, ensures their success. Indeed, the central tenets of Honda Motor’s waigaya approach can best be explained by four straightforward rules:
1. Everybody is equal in waigaya, and all can express their thoughts with impunity.
2. All ideas must be debated until they are either proven valid or rejected.
3. Once a person shares an idea, he or she doesn’t own it anymore—it belongs to Honda, and the group can do with the idea what it will.
4. At the end of waigaya, decisions and responsibilities are generated—a precise list of who is to do what, and by when.
In essence, Honda has learned how to learn from its teams. Participants violate the rules from time to time (Rothfeder gives some examples) which means that team members have to continually re-learn how to learn. That’s to be expected. When you grow up in a strong hierarchy with deference to senior leaders at home and at work, it is not easy to change to a democratic process. However, if Honda wants to surface the best ideas and get buy-in to those ideas from stakeholders, they will have to continually work toward the ideal of an open exchange of ideas from everyone involved.