Hitachi's internal study group, "Team Sunrise," celebrates its 15th year of existence this year. We interviewed the team’s head, Masahiko Sato, who is dedicated to innovation research both personally and professionally, to uncover the secret behind the longevity of this employee-driven initiative. Additionally, a top management from Hitachi’s group company share insights into Team Sunrise's role in Hitachi's "co-creation" and global talent development from a management perspective in the “CASE STUDY” section.


* 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"

Voluntarism of "Challenge" and "Support"

Team Sunrise, while experiencing ups and downs, reached its 15th year in 2021 since its establishment. What might be the reason for its ability to sustain activities for such a long period?

Masahiko Sato, the team’s head, attributes this longevity to the key concept of "voluntarism." He explains, "In Team Sunrise, voluntarism comes in two forms: the members come up with ideas proactively without being prompted, and willingly embrace ‘challenges.’ And they ‘support’ others with fantastic ideas or talents, without being asked. They voluntarily take on challenges and offer support. This has led to numerous inquiries with our secretariat, contributing to the effective functioning of the internal network of Team Sunrise.”

Another characteristic seen through the lens of voluntarism is the presence of members who extend their networks beyond Hitachi Group. For instance, some Team Sunrise members initiated the creation of “SIGN (Social Innovators Global Network),” an activity spinning off from Team Sunrise that collaborates with external innovators to explore various themes, including community development. They voluntarily ventured into the outside world, connecting with knowledgeable professionals, businesspersons from large corporations and venture enterprises, students, and others. By doing so, they receive fresh insights and actively contribute that knowledge back to Team Sunrise.

画像: A snapshot from “Innovators’ BUNKASAI,” a SIGN event, which took place in February 2020 in Shibuya

A snapshot from “Innovators’ BUNKASAI,” a SIGN event, which took place in February 2020 in Shibuya

Sato further highlights the existence of a process in Team Sunrise’s continued activities: “Other’s Business → Personal Business → Business.”

画像: Sato illustrates the transition from “Other’s Business” to “Business” based on Team Sunrise activities

Sato illustrates the transition from “Other’s Business” to “Business” based on Team Sunrise activities

He explains how exposure to a prominent speaker’s lecture initially feels distant but gradually transforms into personal involvement. Once admired activities of such prominent speakers turn into personal matters by the continuous pursuit through pro bono activities with Team Sunrise or other personal networks, some may find supporters who may suggest, “Why don’t you enter that idea to Make a Difference! business contest?” or “Let’s collaborate and develop that idea into a business proposal!”, ultimately resulting in actual business. Sato sees this actually occurring in Team Sunrise.

Enabling Subordinates to Walk a Talk

During a period of the stagnation of their activities mentioned in Part 3, Sato and others organized a study session to revisit Hitachi’s corporate culture. One phrase from the study materials left a profound impact on Sato: “’Enabling subordinates to walk a talk.’ Essentially, it encourages individuals to become someone whose subordinates naturally speak and act upon. The phrase is attributed to Namihei Odaira, the founder of Hitachi, known for such qualities.

One means of motivating others is through incentives. The performance-based approach, which was gaining attention at the time, aimed at motivating individuals through incentives such as salary increases. However, it also had the drawback that without incentives, people might become less inclined to take action. The crucial aspect is not just how to motivate others but rather how to create conditions that enable individuals to self-motivate. That is actually a quote by Edward L. Deci, a renowned psychologist in motivation theory.

The attitude of ’enabling subordinates to speak and act’ aligns perfectly with this concept and, consequently, resonates with Team Sunrise’s culture. The voluntarism of challenge and support in Team Sunrise reflects a cultural value cherished by Hitachi for over a century, potentially contributing to Team Sunrise’s prolonged existence.”

画像: Masahiko Sato, Head of Team Sunrise

Masahiko Sato, Head of Team Sunrise

Utilizing Loose Networks to Unearth ‘Gemstones’

Sato stresses the increasing significance of internal networks like Team Sunrise in fostering innovation within companies. Reflecting on the field of business administration, he notes the growing interest in the use of “loose networks.” Sato differentiates between two types of interactions in individual communities or network activities: IN/OUT and ON/OFF. IN/OUT involves closely connected relationships based on shared interests, which, while driving deep engagement and producing a result, can impose obligations. On the other hand, ON/OFF, akin to social media followership, allows individuals to choose when to actively participate and when to maintain some distance.

Based on his experiences, Sato suggests that networks focusing too much on outcomes tend to become burdensome, with the activities themselves becoming the primary goal. Instead, he advocates for yielding results primarily in one’s core responsibilities, while sometimes using loosely connected networks based on empathy to switch between ON and OFF. The effective navigation between networks like Team Sunrise and one’s department could be a mechanism to discover and nurture innovation within companies.

画像: Figure based on Adam Smith’s "The Wealth of Nations" and "The Theory of Moral Sentiments"

Figure based on Adam Smith’s "The Wealth of Nations" and "The Theory of Moral Sentiments"

Initially joining Hitachi as an SE, Sato experienced several reassignments before joining the Research and Development Group in 2018. Concurrently, he is enrolled at a doctoral program in Innovation Science at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Reflecting on the 15-year journey of Team Sunrise, Sato dedicates his professional and academic life to studying how companies can foster innovation.

“I want to establish the innovation activities Team Sunrise is carrying out as a solid system within Hitachi first. Then, I aim to develop it into a recognized success story and hope it can be utilized as a model not only in Japan but worldwide. I believe that this will lead to the birth of new business globally, making people happier.”

Click here for "【Part 6】 Drivers of Innovation"


画像: ゆるいネットワークを活用して「原石」を見つけ出す

Raizo Sakoda, President of Hitachi Academy

I began my involvement with Team Sunrise around 2017. I had a chance to talk with Mr. Sato and others through my subordinate who was a member of Team Sunrise. I resonated deeply with the activities of Team Sunrise. Our company, Hitachi Academy, provides employee training with the vision to “become a world-class knowledge hub that connects people and inspires learning.” The emphasis is on not confining to a single organization but connecting externally. That aligns closely with Team Sunrise's direction.

Although Hitachi Group holds out the idea of "co-creation" with various stakeholders for social innovation, collaboration is not really our forte because the organization is originally a group of engineers with a strong inclination towards self-reliance. Hence, grassroots networks like Team Sunrise, transcending organizational barriers and connecting people, become all the more indispensable.

I envision Team Sunrise as a hub airport; Hitachi Group's knowledge and ideas are brought together at Team Sunrise as a hub, and they spread globally from it. Simultaneously, its activities ignite motivation for each employee. As the entire Hitachi Group shifts toward job-based employment system, there's an increasing expectation for individuals to independently contemplate their future careers and proactively engage in various initiatives. In a way, Team Sunrise acts as a kind of infrastructure facilitating this.

Regarding Hitachi's initiative to develop globally recognized leaders through "Purpose Driven Leadership," the concept of "Purpose" refers to one's aspirations. And the source of aspiration lies where what one wants to do, what the company should do, and what society demands intersect. To be a genuine leader, having a purpose is crucial. Moreover, leadership requires individuals to accumulate diverse experiences, learn agilely from them, and be unafraid to transform themselves. I anticipate that, from within the activities of Team Sunrise, such individuals will emerge one after another.

画像: Team Sunrise – Hitachi Employees’ Network that Fosters Innovation
【Part 5】Secret behind the Longevity of Team Sunrise

Masahiko Sato

Before joining Hitachi, Ltd. in 2001, he worked at non-governmental organization as system engineer. He earned 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 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.
Currently enrolled at Doctoral Degree Program at Tokyo Institute of Technology in Innovation Science. *

* As of the writing of this article










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