Dec 23 2019 Global teams in Japan, the new strategy in innovation and better working cultures!

The theme of our previous event co-organized by BARK and sponsored by HENNGE K.K. is Global Innovators Unleashed: Hiring, Managing and Retaining Global Talents.

The main aim of the event was to create an open discussion regarding the current status of Japan’s work culture and the need to change and adapt to achieve and retain a global workforce.

We wanted to hear from some of the companies who are in one way or another pursuing to create a global team and looked into how they are handling and managing global talents despite the difficulties and struggles amidst language barrier and culture diversity. The attendees range from StartUp CEOs, HR managers, and global talents mostly from the tech sector who are all interested in learning from the invited panelists.


Some may be confused with what “Global Team” really means and how it is defined. When Japan started opening their doors and accepted hiring foreign talents, it became the first step towards diversity within Japanese working culture. But diversity does not always equate to globalization. Rather it shouldn’t be confused with it. Hiring and having foreign employees within the team doesn’t automatically make the team global, especially if they are still expected to conform to Japanese norms and traditional way of thinking and doing their job.
Global teams are built with members who offer different expertise from around the world and the combination of their relevant work experiences, diverse culture, mentality and local knowledge is what makes the team innovative.


Forming or even just managing global teams is a lot of work so why do companies especially StartUps in Japan bother? Japan for a long time and up until now has used their local language as a barrier from the world. It used to work for sometime, but now that the focus is more on software development and innovation this has become a disadvantage. And the language is just one of the factors, even the way people work within the company and make decisions have big impact with the rate of progress and productivity of Japanese companies.

The event’s main points are divided into 3 segments  namely hiring, managing and retaining global teams.
When we started the first segment regarding hiring global talents, it can’t be helped but go deeper into why the company started hiring foreigners in the first place.

Jordan Fisher, CEO & Co-Founder of Zehitomo

Zehitomo is a Tokyo based startup that provides an online platform to connect freelancers and local small business owners with customers.

For Zehitomo, originally it wasn’t the company’s main aim to create a global team, rather they focused on building a team where the company will thrive. Since the founders are foreigners it’s easy to convince and get people on board on the idea that the company is more global. The struggle was more on hiring Japanese managers for them since their target market is local. Creating the dynamics and nature of the team doesn’t exactly happen overnight but according to Zehitomo’s CEO and Co-founder, Jordan, the culture of any company especially at the startup level is the founder’s culture.

Kaz Ishigame, COO & Co-Founder of Infostellar

Infostellar is a software driven space communication firm that develops cloud-based satellite antenna sharing platform.

According to Infostellar’s COO & Co-founder, Kaz Ishigame, since the nature of their target market, which is the space industry, is world-wide they actually the pursued creating global teams as their business strategy. They try to constantly create an environment with a global mindset, language and culture. It was a struggle in the beginning since Kaz himself isn’t fluent in English, they had to hire bilingual foreigners as their way to form a global team. To show commitment to the company’s strong belief in creating a global team, Kaz studied and practiced English to show dedication. They also favored hiring foreign bilinguals over Japanese bilinguals because they are after the mindset and culture these talents will bring and share to the company.

Toshihiro Takasu, Deputy Division Manager at HENNGE K.K.

HENNGE K.K., formerly known as HDE Inc., is Japan’s leading SaaS provider.

In the case of HENNGE it took a while for the company to transition and eventually even use English as their official language. Similar with Infostellar, HENNGE is pursuing the goal to go global simply because they see this as a good opportunity for their company to stay competitive in the tech world. They even have their own initiative called Global Internship Program or GIU to encourage global talents to experience working in their company in Japan and in return be able to also take advantage of the uniqueness each intern brings to the company.

Matthew Gillingham, Engineering Manager at Mercari.

Mercari is an e-commerce company that is currently operational in Japan as well as United States of America.

In Mercari, although it started as a local e-commerce platform in Japan, the founders are very serious in creating presence globally. They are explicitly aiming to become a global company. They are even actively hiring people from all around the world. In 2018 alone, they hired 40 new Engineer graduates from India. The main reason behind building a global team for them is because they also aim to build a global platform as well as create a company culture that cultivates and promotes mentality and practices that supports their mission and values.

There is no black and white in creating global teams in Japan.

Every company works different and what may work in some may not completely work out with other companies. This also applies when creating global teams. The main reason and factors considered in this transition may vary but this definitely leads to innovation. At the end of the day the performance of the team players and the company weighs heavily in the game. We asked the panelists to give us some insights and advice when it comes to how they handle certain processes in pursuit of forming global teams.

Here are the highlights based from the event.

1.) Global teams play a huge role in maximizing the company’s results and optimizing their potential.
Global teams are not just a fad and hype in Japan. It truly is difficult to make it work and most especially ensure a smooth transition if you are in Japan, a country that favors tradition and conforming to the norms. But those who are pursuing it or aiming for it knows the potential value it can impact their company not only now but as well as in the long run. Tech companies or startups especially needs this in order to keep up and advance in their respective industries.

2.) English may be a huge factor but it’s also about transparency, mindset and work culture.
Yes, English is a first step in making it work. Some companies like Mercari and HENNGE have switched to English as the official language and others like Infostellar and Zehitomo are bilingual companies. The important aspect is that there is a standard level of understanding and transparency achieved within the company that enables the company to function smoothly and still achieve the results. Mindset is also another factor to look at. Having diverse employees and even using English within the company but expecting people to think and act like Japanese will still defeat the purpose of going global. The impact of a company going global includes becoming more innovative and gaining different perspectives that leads to better processes, products, services or even a better working culture and atmosphere.

3.) Candidates looking to join companies aiming to be global or who are global should be willing to embrace the challenges that comes with this transition.
Not a lot of Japanese companies have embraced this global mindset and those that do face difficulties and struggles in making it work. There’s a lot of factors to consider when a company is in transition like the willingness and dedication of the current employees as well as the patience and willingness of the new employees to step out of their comfort zone and bear with current state of stability of the processes and changes that happens within the company.

4.) There should be relevant efforts and initiatives to manage the team and their expectations.
The road to global teams starts with hiring global talents but it shouldn’t end there. Managing and retaining these talents are just as important as hiring them in the first place. Of course there are a lot of things to consider that weighs in the matter but it’s important to pay attention to creating quality initiatives and practices that improves processes and creates a better working environment for the company.

5.) There is no perfect way or formula of creating a global team. Some things that work for others may not work for you, and vice versa.
Each company has their own way and style of building and running their teams. Depending on the nature of the business and the ultimate goal of the company, it’s very important to keep in mind that in the end there is no failure except inaction. With growth comes constant learning in the midst of trial and error. Just keep in mind that your values, mission and vision should be aligned.

We hope to see you in our future events!

If you want to join our community and gain access to workshops and events join our meet up group by clicking the photo below!

Get to know some of the event’s panelists!
Click to read more about their company’s culture.

Photo credits from the event: @ryunan

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