* This article is as of writing in March 2021
Click here for "【Part 1】 15 Years of Hitachi’s Internal Employee Network"
Click here for "【Part 2】 The Logic of Transforming an Organization"
Click here for "【Part 3】 Making a Fresh Start from Stagnation"
Click here for "【Part 4】 Challenging the Pandemic by DX of Innovation"
Click here for "【Part 5】 Secret behind the Longevity of Team Sunrise"
Click here for "【Part 6】 Drivers of Innovation"
Click here for "【Part 7】 The Man Who Brought the US Bestseller “The Human Element” to Japan"
Click here for "【Part 8】 Global Mindset and English"
Click here for "【Part 9】 Organization Where Innovation Occurs from the Bottom Up"
Creating New Business through Internal Study Groups
Some years ago, a group of Japanese business professionals visited a foreign government and jointly proposed a telecommunications project. While all of them were Hitachi Group employees, they initially had no professional connections and came from various Hitachi companies with different positions and age groups. They became acquainted through "Team Sunrise," Hitachi's internal employee network, where they collaborated on shared objectives outside of work hours. At Hitachi, it's a common practice for employees from various parts of the organization to collaborate and present joint proposals to clients.
Team Sunrise was formed in 2006, and now boasts approximately 2,000 members. Its primary objective is to "create new businesses at Hitachi." Employees from diverse backgrounds, positions, and generations come together to nurture innovation. They organize study sessions with business leaders from various fields on weeknights, host hackathons and ideathons, and many of its members submit entries for Hitachi’s internal business plan competition "Make a Difference!" Notably, their activities go beyond theory and lead to tangible business implementations, such as the aforementioned joint proposal to client and presentations to group company executives.
If a Team Sunrise member is inspired by a book from a notable author and wishes to share that inspiration with Hitachi colleagues, they can take the initiative to invite the author as a lecturer. They manage everything from arranging the venue, informing members, planning and managing the event, to sharing their insights from the lecture and planning follow-up events—all voluntarily. Over the years, the speakers at their study sessions have included artificial intelligence and aerospace researchers, a business communication expert, film and animation directors, executives from various industries including startups, and representatives of non-profit organizations, showcasing a diverse range of professionals.
The "Personal Network" That Hitachi Lacked
"When I joined Hitachi — a typical large company — I expected many employees passionately engaging in their work, conversing and collaborating across different departments. However, once I started working, I found that they communicated with colleagues within the boundary of their department all day, every day, constrained by their department's budgets and profits. I, too, found myself preoccupied with immediate tasks," recalls Masahiko Sato, the representative of Team Sunrise, who is currently a member of Hitachi's Research & Development Group.
Sato joined Hitachi as a mid-career hire in 2001 as a systems engineer. It was through his involvement in projects such as mergers and acquisitions, establishing new companies, and forming alliances with startups that he developed a new perspective.
"I began to take an interest in the processes and mechanisms that enable the creation of new businesses by engaging with the values and cultures of other companies. Also, following an experience of being questioned by a client about significance of forming an alliance with Hitachi, I came to think of the importance of Hitachi having the capability to grow and expand its own business. For that, communication across organizational boundaries was essential — that became my growing conviction."
"Then, I observed how some colleagues effectively used networks among peers who joined Hitachi at the same time as new graduate hires. When they faced challenges in their work, they would casually reach out to such peers in other departments, crossing organizational boundaries to overcome difficult situations. I also witnessed a partner company colleague who is originally from abroad using his personal networks to resolve issues effectively. These observations led me to a realization. I joined Hitachi as a mid-career hire, so I didn't have peers or personal connections with external business professionals. But what if I could create a mechanism like the personal networks they had within Hitachi? I thought that such a mechanism could transform our organization into one that transcends departmental, hierarchical, and generational boundaries and create something new."
Sato discussed this idea with like-minded colleagues and, in 2006, launched an internal study group, the predecessor of Team Sunrise. Originally named the "Global Wakate-kai," which means "Association of Younger Employees," it was open to "anyone with a youthful spirit" and aimed to "make Hitachi a global top-tier company like GE or Siemens." This predecessor of today's Team Sunrise initially had only about 10 members who would participate in the study group outside of work hours.
In launching the Global Wakate-kai, Sato delved into various literature on organizational management and tried to apply each model in such literature to Hitachi's situation. He sought to understand why large organizations like Hitachi tend to cling to perspectives of smaller departmental worlds. He began to realize the presence of two "gravitational forces" that influenced the organization on the sneak.
Before joining Hitachi, Ltd. in 2001, he worked at a non-governmental organization as a system engineer. He earned an MBA while working for system engineering of information & telecommunication, incorporation of a company, and M&A projects. He also worked at IT Strategy Division at Hitachi Headquarters and currently works at the Global Center for Social Innovation at R&D Group as Chief Researcher. Head of Team Sunrise (formerly known as Global Wakate-kai founded in 2006), a network of employees across Hitachi.
He is currently enrolled in a Doctoral Degree Program at Tokyo Institute of Technology in Innovation Science. *
* As of the writing of this article