Why Toyota’s IT Department Is Broken & Why That’s Ok

by drjim on December 11, 2008

Toyota Departments Do Six Things That Sure Seem To Be Strange

Toyota Departments Do Six Things That Sure Seem To Be Strange

Over at Toyota, they have a habit of doing things differently than everyone else. This might be one of the reasons that Toyota is such a successful company. Their IT department, just like the rest of the company, looks like it on the brink of failure even as the company does better and better in the marketplace. How can this be?

If you look at the numbers, Toyota has nothing to write home about. They pay very low dividends and it sure looks like they are hording cash – both of these are generally signs of a company that is not being run all that well.

Toyota is just a flat out weird company. Their departments do things that you won’t see at any other company. Perhaps there is something that we can learn from how they do things – we would all like to be as successful as they are.

Here are six Toyota oddities that we can puzzle over and perhaps learn from:

  1. Toyota Moves Like A Turtle, But Jumps Like A Rabbit: It sure seems like Toyota behaves just like you would expect a big firm to behave most of the time: they started making cars in the U.S. through a partnership with GM in 1984 and slowly expanded from there. No big deal. However, then all of a sudden they created and introduced the Prius – a massive jump in technology. Clearly this big firm has start-up type characteristics when needed.
  2. Can I Have Some Change Please?: If there is once constant at Toyota, it’s change. The direction from the top on down is to always be looking for a better way to do things. Employees are supported in taking risks by management that likes to say “No change is bad!”
  3. What Are You Doing Here?: So much for lean meetings – at Toyota, most meetings are packed with people no matter whether they have something to say on the topic or not. Toyota also packs its field offices (close to the customers) with staff instead of keeping them at HQ. Finally, senior management seem to be always on the road visiting dealers. Gosh, what a novel concept – stay in touch with all parts of the company!
  4. Penny Wise, Pound Foolish: Toyota appears to be in another competitive race – they seem to be trying to match Walmart for the honor of being called the cheapest company in the world. At Toyota they flip off the lights over lunch and in Japan they’ve moved everyone into one big room to work together with no partitions. This counting of pennies is matched by the immense spending that Toyota indulges in on its plants and in training for its employees. All that flipping off of the lights must be working because somehow Toyota has come up with $170M/year to spend on sponsoring a Formula 1 team!
  5. Can You Hear Me Now?: Instead of trying to impress everyone with your big fancy words, if you worked at Toyota you would be encouraged to communicate using simple, clear expressions. Summaries would be an important part of any slide deck that you put together. However, at the same time you would be encouraged to meet and interact with as many people as possible – other departments, other business units, other locations. Can you imagine how long your IM list would be?
  6. Do What The Boss Says, Or Not: It’s not what you would expect to find at a Japanese company, but at Toyota employees are encouraged to “Pick a friendly fight”. Employees are encouraged to speak up and contradict what their bosses have told them to do. Don’t do what your boss told you to do just because he/she told you to do it!

So which of these six Toyota ways of doing things strikes you as being the oddest? Do you think that this type of behavior would help or hinder your IT department? Does your department engage in any of these activities today? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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