Nemawashi 根回し: the meetings before the meeting

Committee meetings can be incredibly boring and even counterproductive. But they can also lead to breakthroughs in consensus building and decision-making, which is why they’re still necessary. The difference between good and bad meetings is often preparation. 

What are some of the issues you commonly experience in group meetings?

                                            Image: Kathy Sierra

                                            Image: Kathy Sierra

We often hear things like:

  • A few people dominate most of the discussion
  • We only agree on the things that are easiest to grasp in the limited time available
  • The best ideas don't make it into the meeting

There are people who thrive in group meetings though, and who seem to benefit from the group decision-making process. I recently gained insight from such a person, who told me: “by the time the meeting happens, I've already won through Nemawashi”. Now I'm not saying meetings are about winning, but the concept intrigued me. 

Nema-what? 

Nemawashi is a Japanese concept for the discussions you have before a group meeting. The term was originally used by farmers for when they needed to transplant a tree. You can’t just pull a tree out of the ground, you need to clear the earth around the roots first. Literally translated, Nemawashi means “going around the roots”.

In Japan, you wouldn’t drop a new idea into a group meeting and expect everyone to buy into it. That would disrupt the highly valued harmony of the group. Instead, you would build consensus prior to the meeting with the key individuals and groups involved. So that by the time the group meeting comes around, everyone involved has had the opportunity to get used to the idea.

It may seem slow, but this is "going slow to go fast". How much slower would your progress be if the group overlooks your idea or makes the wrong decision because they don't understand. 

What can you do differently? The Nemawashi process

  1. Before your next committee or board meeting, think about what issue (or issues) are most important to you. 
  2. Ensure the issue is on the agenda (who do you need to speak to about this?)
  3. What would success look like to you, what consensus are you looking for? 
  4. Who's buy-in, insight, or advice do you need before the meeting to ensure a smooth acceptance on the day the group meets?