Ask a scholar or a student of business administration and management and he or she will probably tell you: "In Japan they work in teams." Herewith everything seems to be said and a scientific publication on this subject is redundant. However, a systematic analysis of the existing literature in the Japanese and in Western languages on this standard knowledge reveals a completely different picture. It is a "knowledge" that is based on citations of cited interpretation of (supposedly) empirical evidence that has not been questioned.
The findings of own extended field research in six assembly line of three car makers are at odds with many, even core, aspects of the stereotype of teamwork in Japan.
We must say fare well to the romantic ideas about a supposedly strong participative character of Japanese teamworking. These ideas are not valid for the six case studies and are therefore not valid – as the standard knowledge says - for all Japanese automobile makers or even the entire Japanese industry. Furthermore, the findings contradict the stereotype of "one identical concept of teamwork."
The empirical research shows that it is short-sighted and even dangerous to put one's trust in "knowledge" that is obviously to a great extent grounded on circular citations of reports that are neither examined on their theoretical nor on their empirical validity. Finally, this research project demonstrates that challenging research topics can even be found, or just because of this, right there where they had been marginalized, neglected and sacrificed to the next, faster and faster emerging waves and hypes of scientific interest.
Anne Sey is Assistant Professor at the Department for Business Studies, Faculty for Economics at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She is specialized in organizational studies and human resource development.