• Sweden edition
 
THE WÄSTBERG CHRONICLES
Management by consensus – the Swedish way

Management by consensus – the Swedish way

Published: 21 Jan 2009 18:21 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Jan 2009 18:21 GMT+01:00

Swedish managers are typically supposed to be consensual, non-hierarchical and informal. How far does the stereotype match reality, asks Olle Wästberg, director-general of the Swedish Institute.

Is there such a thing as a "Swedish management style"?

Well, maybe. I know Americans who have been in meetings with Swedes, where a subject is discussed for an hour or so, and then the Swedish chair concludes: "Well, we all agree. So, just do it!"

"Do, what?" the American thinks, not grasping the subtle Swedish consensus building. The non-Swede finds no decision taken and doesn't understand that Swedes have a light touch on expressing decisions.

As all statements of national traits, this description is of course an oversimplification. But still, there are many things about Swedish business culture that to the uninitiated might be unintelligible.

Swedish companies usually have flat, non-hierarchical organizations with more of informal decision-making compared with companies in other countries. Compared with American or Russian companies Swedes make less of statistics and reporting.

That doesn't mean that the Swedish process includes less planning or that there are fewer meetings in Swedish companies. On the contrary.

An American friend with experience of Swedish as well as American companies described the difference in management style as follows:

- If an American group sets out to build a railroad, they try to find the best engineer, the best contractors, decide from where to where the railroad should go, build the team and set off. When they meet an obstacle on the way, they try to solve it as they go.

- Swedes would spend an extra year on planning and mapping, thinking of what could become a problem during the project and add the required manpower successively. When they run into problems, they have probably anticipated them.

Both teams will reach their destination at the same time, but in different ways.

When I once said to an American friend that I as a Swede didn't have a lawyer and hadn't talked to a lawyer for years, he was flabbergasted: "I call my lawyer first thing in the morning."

That might not go for every American, but law certainly plays a much less prominent role in a traditionally homogeneous country like Sweden. Swedish business contracts are usually much shorter than in many other countries – probably because the level of trust still is higher and there is a mutual understanding of standard business practice.

Young Swedes employed by foreign companies or international organizations often run into trouble being too informal or too disrespectful of structures. In a Swedish ministry, for example, it is quite natural for a newly employed, young person to stop the minister in the corridor and launch a fast idea. Wouldn't happen in Paris.

When non-Swedes experience a Swedish company or organisation from inside, they seem to think that there really is a "Swedish management style."

In 2008 the Swedish Institute started the first in a series of management programmes, aiming to build networks between Sweden and other countries. The participants in this first programme were emerging leaders from Northern Europe, both new EU countries and EU neighbours.

By bringing young leaders, mostly from business – but sometimes government – to Sweden, we create lasting bonds between our country and people who are likely to play an important role in their home countries. They are invited to Sweden, get a crash course in what Sweden is all about, meet with Swedish counterparts and work for a couple of weeks on business projects at Swedish companies.

The programme is not at all about promoting a special leadership style, but rather about promoting value-based leadership. The central values are not specifically Swedish, but play an important role in Sweden: corporate social responsibility, sustainability and the environment.

Through this programme, young leaders from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have got the chance to spend some time in Sweden. In 2009 a new management programme with roughly the same aim and direction is being launched for China and India.

When we talked to the first group of participants, they were quite unanimous in recognising a "Swedish leadership style" characterized by easy communication, low internal competition and anti-hierarchical organization structures.

So, maybe it is not a myth after all.

Olle Wästberg, Director-General of the Swedish Institute

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Sponsored Article
On the move: Sweden's shifting mobility trends
House keys: Shutterstock.

On the move: Sweden's shifting mobility trends

Finding somewhere to live when you move to Sweden is a challenge. With changes afoot The Local caught up with an expert from letting agency Residensportalen to find out in what direction the market is going, and how Google Glasses may just help you find your dream home. READ () »

The Local List
Ten most disgusting Swedish foods
Salty liquorice, anyone? Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Ten most disgusting Swedish foods

Swedish food is, of course, a matter of taste. But it's mostly disgusting. Our loyal followers on Twitter and Facebook shared what they thought were the worst of them all. READ () »

Sweden wants cruise missiles 'for defence'
Defence Minister Karin Enström. File photo: TT

Sweden wants cruise missiles 'for defence'

The Swedish government has announced plans to beef up its defence forces by fitting its fleet of Gripen fighter jets with long-range cruise missiles. READ () »

Swede of the Week
Sweden's oldest would-be MP: 'They promised I wouldn't get in'
Swedes vote in the 2010 elections. File photo: Dan Hansson/TT

Sweden's oldest would-be MP: 'They promised I wouldn't get in'

Gösta Arvedson, 89, is the oldest Riksdag candidate in Sweden, but our Swede of the Week explains that the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) had to make some unusual promises for him to put his name forward. READ () »

Elections 2014
Most Swedes lack info ahead of EU vote
The Green Party is one of only two parties devoting their websites to the EU elections. Here campaign manager Emma Rung presents the party's posters. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Most Swedes lack info ahead of EU vote

The majority of Swedes feel the country's political parties are not doing enough to inform them about the upcoming European Parliament elections. Only two of the eight parties have dedicated their homepages to the May 25th polls. READ () »

Fatal Norrköping Brawl
Local church tried to stop Norrköping murders
Swedish police on the scene following Monday's fatal brawl. File: TT

Local church tried to stop Norrköping murders

The Syrian-Orthodox Church in Ektorp had tried to quell tensions between two rival families just hours before bad blood spilled into a massive brawl and two brothers lost their lives. READ () »

JobTalk Sweden
'Foreigners don't need to show banks Swedish ID'
The bridge that connects Sweden to the European continent. File: L.E. Daniel Larsson/Flickr

'Foreigners don't need to show banks Swedish ID'

The Swedish agency that helps Europeans fight impediments to the EU principle of free movement has revealed an increase in complaints, including one from a foreign citizen unable to open a bank account in Sweden. READ () »

Eurovision 2014
Pig heart shatters in Sweden's Eurovision clip
Sanna Nielsen in the new clip. Photo: YouTube (screenshot)

Pig heart shatters in Sweden's Eurovision clip

Sweden's Eurovision hopeful Sanna Nielsen released the official video for the song Undo on Wednesday, a clip featuring leather, slow motion destruction, and a frozen pig's heart and some violence. READ () »

Software robot pinches Swedish flats in seconds
Swedish apartments. File: The Local

Software robot pinches Swedish flats in seconds

A Swedish landlord suspects that a property fixer has set up a software robot to sign up for new flats on the market within seconds, and is charging house hunters to use the service. READ () »

Swedish zoo fire 'kills only the spiders'
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Swedish zoo fire 'kills only the spiders'

Twenty-five fire fighters were on hand on Wednesday night when a fire broke out in a southern Sweden animal park. The vast majority of the animals were unharmed, but the cluster of spiders wasn't so lucky. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
On the move: Sweden's shifting mobility trends
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 23
TT
Gallery
Inside the 850-year-old king's coffin
Features
Sponsored: South-eastern Sweden offers Öland beaches and more
Gallery
Swedish underwear shop puts staff in front of the camera
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The Local's Property of the Week - Täby
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - India Unlimited
Features
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - A film, food, and finance feast
National
University applications rocket to record high
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 18-20
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Advertisement:
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

720
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com