Interview with Iolanda written and published by: Soken xymax online.

The role that “Leadership of the New Era” plays for ABW to be successful

Iolanda Meehan/Managing Partner Asia, Veldhoen + Company

Workplace transformation in Japan part 2

How does Iolanda Meehan, who has long examined the organization and corporate strategies of Asian companies at Veldhoen + Company, a Dutch consulting firm that created the ABW (Activity Based Working) concept, view the organization and workplaces of Japanese companies?

In Part One, Iolanda spoke about the basic idea of ABW, the necessity of workplace transformation, and the importance of leadership. In Part Two, we asked her about the specific leadership skills required in ABW and the relationship between ABW and “trust,” which she says is an especially important leadership skill.

Six skills required of a leader in ABW

There are many interpretations of the definition of leadership. We have tried to find out through surveys which skills leaders need to develop, especially when managing team members who work remotely under the ABW concept without a dedicated desk. There are six major skills that are required of leaders in ABW.


In ABW, a leader will need the skill to determine whether all the decisions, which were made only by the manager in the past, should really be done by the manager. Or should decision-making be spread around the team, and get people inspired and empowered?


Building trust with your team or peers cannot be ordered or trained. A leader must understand this and win the trust of the team. This will take months and sometimes years. This may be the most difficult skill of all.


It is the new role of a leader in ABW to make sure that team-bonding, for work or outside work, happens. Team-bonding used to be naturally developed as people saw each other and worked next to each other every day. Now, how can team members working remotely feel connected to the team? It’s a leadership skill that needs to be practiced, since it cannot be taken for granted.

4)Focus on outcome:

In ABW, it is important to measure results. This is to enable managers to trust that their people deliver results even if they are not sitting in front of them. A good salesperson is out with their customers all the time and is not in the office, but the manager can trust the salesperson because he/she can manage sales by outcomes. So, my question is, why can’t we manage personnel, finance, and marketing by outcomes? Leaders should trust their people by outcomes, not by whether they are sitting in front of them or not.


In recent years, the importance of collaboration beyond the borders of the team or division has been gaining attention. It is an important role of the leader to make sure collaboration happens within the team. The team can grow through collaboration.


Knowledge-sharing was easy when your team members were in front of you, but in a new way of working, the leader must proactively make time for knowledge-sharing.

Why “trust” is important in decision-making in Japan

One of the most difficult of these leadership skills is trust. Managers must depend on their teams to deliver results and show the results to the organization. Managers must choose to make something important to you, such as your own achievements and evaluation, vulnerable to the behavior and actions of your team, while not only gaining the trust of their teams but also trusting and empowering their teams.

Also in Japan, the skill of trust-building has an important meaning. This is because Japan has quite a special culture regarding decision-making.

Japanese companies take a hierarchical approach to authority. So, leaders in Japan tend to be more authoritative than the rest of the world. However, when you look at decision-making in Japan, Japan is much more on the consensual side. Decisions are not always made from the top-down by the leader alone, but are based on the consensus of the entire team. While having a hierarchical leadership style, leaders in Japan cannot go anywhere without the consensus of their teams. This is where trust comes in. Leaders and team members must trust each other to achieve the ideal combination of “authority” and “consensus.”


In corporate management, it is important to align the four areas of “corporate culture,” “business strategy,” “workstyle,” and “brand” without divergence. A strategic development of a workplace environment is an effective way to achieve that.

Although a majority of Japanese office workers are engaged in deskwork and their daily working hours are said to be longer than the global average, the mainstream workstyle had long been working in highly populated, efficiency-seeking offices. Working in such offices leads to the decline in workers’ engagement toward the organization.

Some of you may think that engagement is a western concept and has nothing to do with Japanese companies. However, the concept of engagement can be broken down into factors such as a favorable view toward the company and cooperation with its vision, and a willingness to contribute to the company’s business. It is definitely undesirable for Japanese companies that employees are negative toward these factors.

Devising a workplace strategy based on the ABW concept not only improves workers’ engagement but can also be expected to create a favorable situation for corporate management. And, in order to make ABW successful, I talked about the importance of the role of leadership.

ABW developed in countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, where the corporate culture is not so hierarchical. The Japanese culture is a little different, but it is important not to consider the difference as a blocker but to recognize that the difference is in the approach to leadership. Please think about what is necessary to foster leadership in Japan in accordance with each company’s culture, instead of copying what happens in the Netherlands. The leadership gained through such efforts will become strong wheels in achieving ABW.


Iolanda Meehan/Managing Partner Asia, Veldhoen + Company. Iolanda Meehan is the Managing Partner for Veldhoen + Company in Asia. Iolanda has more than 20 years of experience in previous roles as management consultant and as business leader in PwC, Philips and Haworth. She has a BSc in Economics and Management and is a graduate of Change Leadership Programs from Stanford University and Wharton Business School. She is accredited as a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP).

For more about this project please contact Iolanda Meehan

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Workplace Transformation in JapanValues-driven working