Brainstorming, Innovation, Problem-Solving and Team Meetings in China

Accessing the best ideas in China, as may be imagined, is particularly challenging for many of the reasons previously mentioned in this series.

In my early days in China I led an Asian team to develop regional implementation of strategy. This was a very long two days of blank faces and mostly silence with the ultimate result that our plans were largely developed by myself and one Swiss technical leader.

Impacts of Mianzi and Xiao

Issues around mianzi and xiao come particularly into pay in the settings. According to mianzi, people may be reluctant to be open and share ideas for fear of rejection and humiliation.

Concerns around xiao may cause people to be fearful of offering an idea that could be in opposition to the opinion of the leader.

It can be advisable to bring in a professional coach (such as a brainstorming trainer) for some of the early meetings of this type until people get slightly more acclimated to expectations and build a bit more comfort in this sort of environment. Expectations should also be clearly stated in acknowledgement of the very different approach to be taken in comparison with staff’s previous experience. Where possible meetings should be structured such that ideas are written and submitted – somewhat anonymously – to encourage more openness.

Relative to problem-solving in general, it often works to “assign” a staff member to develop three proposals to solve a problem and to meet one-on-one at a later date. The staffer may be encouraged to consult with others in which case he may do so one-on-one or in a smaller group of peers with lower perceived risk. In this case, he has a clear order that he is obligated by duty to fulfill, and the one-on-one review session removes some of the societal exposure and pressure that may be felt otherwise.

The challenge of creating a more open and innovative result in Confucian societies is a very significant one, requires patience, careful thought at each event, steady persistence and usually requires years of effort.

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