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  • Nancy Nouaimeh

The 7 minutes miracle of the bullet train cleaning crew



TESSEI cleaners crew servicing the Shinkansen bullet trains provide a First-Class Service with high devotion, an original approach to cleaning and emphasis on teamwork. A beautiful example on how a lean culture can be created in any type of organization and how specifically a cleaning crew elevated “cleaning” to an “art”.


So how do they do it? We will address this in a series of short articles in our Seamless Excellence blog.


Let us start with some background about when this transformation journey started.


Prior to 2005, TESSEI had serious problems that previous leaders failed at all attempts to fix, with various approaches that increased managerial monitoring and controls. Teruo Yabe was asked to revive TESSEI, in 2005. Yabe started by seeking a creative approach to overcome the motivation, capability, and coordination challenges facing his organization. Like many contemporary leaders, he selected transparency as his tool. However, he adopted a highly nuanced approach to implementing transparency and devoted the company’s efforts to (i) increasing user satisfaction, not as a cleaning business but as a service business and (ii) increasing the sense of fulfillment of its employees. A two ways approach to achieve satisfaction. Yabe’s realization that joy of users and motivation of workers who are constantly interacting, are both critical elements for his company, helped him position the workplace at the center of things and take it from there.

And this was the start of the transformation that helped make the cleaning work more meaningful for TESSEI’s front-line employees and lead to a fantastic organizational turnaround taught in several universities as a case study for successful culture transformation.


Let us now address the first of the success factors the TESSEI case study teaches us.

#1 It starts from the top… Bringing Out the Best in One Another

TESSEI, the company who operates the cleaning services inside Tokyo Station focus not only on attaining gratitude of passengers as their cleaners provide a service beyond expectations, but on bringing out the best in one another.


Mr. Sasaki, a Manager at TESSEI’s Tokyo Service Center said, “Gratitude from passengers is of course most important but our employees feel even more motivated because they know the company is watching each one of them and evaluating them. We want our staff to engage in their daily work knowing that their efforts and performance are constantly being watched by someone and will be properly recognized”. TESSEI recognizes employees’ efforts however trivial they might seem.



Their “Angel Report” is a great example of that, Mr. Sasaki said, “we got members and leaders to write and submit reports on the good points they have noticed among team members, thoughtful responses to passengers, wonderful deeds, feelings of gratitude on being helped by other team members, things like that.” These illustrious acts and modest efforts, even minor ones, are compiled in a monthly Angel Report, which is made available for all staff to see and shared throughout the company. And company expresses its gratitude to staff for their efforts and raises motivation by presenting team and individual awards every month.


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