TOKYO -- Without realizing it, the Americans sit on one side of the conference table and the Japanese the other.
And when it comes time to discuss management styles, the Americans do most of the talking.
In the Tokyo Bay Sheraton Hotel less than a mile from Tokyo Disneyland, managers from two worlds -- East and West -- had come to compare notes. The critical question was who has the best management style.
"The answer is somewhere in the middle," says James Cramer, executive director of the University of Maryland's International Business and Management Institute (IBMI).
The institute, created in 1984, was the brain child of Cramer, who went to Japan to 10 years ago to teach in the University's Asian division.
"I thought with our resources we could teach Maryland businesses international management strategies," said the 44-year-old Cramer.
But what evolved is an institute that works primarily with Japanese companies to train their managers to go aboard.
"I would like to work with more American companies," he said. "It's hard for U.S. companies to see the threat from Asian firms. They should be thinking about joint ventures. The companies, especially firms in Maryland, are very well capable of going global. Asian firms, Japanese firms, will prove to be a major threat to small and medium size companies."
As the world economy becomes increasingly integrated, Cramer said the institute now is attempting to perfect a comprehensive program to help corporations develop managers with an international outlook.
For 150 hours and about $13,000 per participant, the institute has designed an intensive course that brings together Japanese and U.S. managers to address current business issues and explore various management styles.
For the next four months, a group of 10 executives from such multinational companies as General Electric, Sony Corp., ARCO Chemical Japan and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines will try to develop the techniques they hope will push them into upper management.
"We are looking at globally integrated corporations, and the managers for these firms have to have self knowledge," says Mary Baron, associate director of the university's institute.
That's why Baron, a licensed psychologist, uses a battery of analytical tools, particularly the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to identify personality types and potential pitfalls that can get in the way of good management. Such self-examination is not typical of employees in Japan, where the importance of the group takes precedence over the individual, Baron said.
"This test is one of the biggest sellers in Japanese companies because they want to get a sense of self. But the Japanese aren't used to talking about themselves," she said.
However, in this forum talking about themselves is what both the Japanese and Americans pay to do.
When Sony's Takako Hagiwara took the Meyers-Briggs test, for instance, she discovered she was classified as a type who is concerned chiefly with the surrounding people and who places a high value on harmonious human contacts.
Takako, who works in Sony's international human resource department, doesn't argue with that.
And although that trait -- with its emphasis on harmony -- appears typical of Japanese workers, Baron says stereotypes have no place in the institute's programs.
If people with Takako's personality type aren't careful, they can be overlooked when it comes time for a promotion. This is especially true for Takako because she carries the extra burden of being a woman in a society where women are rarely promoted to management positions.
"I think times are changing and Japanese companies can now accept female managers," said the 29-year-old Takako. "I hope to learn something here that will help me make a good manager."
But Cheryl A. Hill, an information specialist for the Maruzen Co. Ltd., a Japanese publishing and information systems firm, isn't very optimistic about her chances for promotion even though the Myers-Briggs test indicates her personality type often moves into supervisory and management roles.
That's not going to happen at Maruzen, Hill says with frustration.
"Working in a Japanese company when you are a foreigner is lonely," said Hill, who grew up in Joppatowne in Harford County. "The Asian attitude toward women is very primitive."
Nevertheless, the 31-year-old Hill says she endures working at Maruzen for the sake of the experience.
Her negotiation skills, for instance, have certainly improved: In two months she managed to convince her employers to agree to give her two Saturdays a month off -- a feat equivalent to moving a mountain in a country where the six-day week is traditional.
Satoshi Takahashi, a manager in customer service for IBM Japan Ltd., joined the institute program to pick up some managerial pointers from the Americans.