• 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

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)

Today's headlines
National
Northern Swedes wake up to September snow

Northern Swedes wake up to September snow

Summer has come to a definite end in Kiruna as residents of the northern town were greeted with a blanket of snow on Sunday morning. READ  

Elections 2014
Ex-Prime Minister: Sweden is falling apart
Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. Photo: Leo Sellén/TT

Ex-Prime Minister: Sweden is falling apart

Former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson has said that the election success of the Sweden Democrats is a "slap" in the face for the Stockholm establishment. READ  

National
Trio prosecuted for hate attack against Somalis
Somali nationals taking part in a demonstration against deportations in Stockholm. File photo:Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/ TT

Trio prosecuted for hate attack against Somalis

Three young men in southern Sweden suspected of attacking Somali refugees with stones and screaming "sieg heil" have been indicted on charges of racial agitation. READ  

National
Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Sweden is set to buck the European trend of rising air prices with fares expected to drop next year according to a new report. READ  

National
Swede's homemade submarine nets fortune
Eric Westerberg's homemade submarine Isabelle. Photo: PS.nu

Swede's homemade submarine nets fortune

A Swedish submarine enthusiast who spent over 3,500 hours making his own vessel has sold his prized possession for 705,000 kronor ($98,500) in an online auction. READ  

National
Cops reported for making 'Roma' comment

Cops reported for making 'Roma' comment

Police in northern Sweden have been reported to the Equality Ombudsman for describing a wanted suspect as having a "Roma appearance." READ  

Donald Duck and Zlatan get Swedish votes
A political career for Zlatan? Some fans seem to want to see that. Photo: Peter Dejong/TT

Donald Duck and Zlatan get Swedish votes

The Bilderberg Group, the Satanic Initiative and Adolf Hitler all received votes in Sweden’s general election, according to a list released by the country’s electoral authority. READ  

Sport
Stockholm fails bid to host Euro 2020 games
The Swedish team in action. Photo: TT

Stockholm fails bid to host Euro 2020 games

Sweden's capital has missed out on a chance to host any Euro 2020 games, with Copenhagen the only Scandinavian city among the thirteen winning locations. READ  

Vicar: God rejects fans of women priests
Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Uppsala, is the first woman to head the Swedish church. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Vicar: God rejects fans of women priests

A Swedish priest has been fired after telling his congregation that people who support female priests would be rejected by God - despite the fact that his own church is led by a woman. READ  

Analysis
Women set to dominate top post-election jobs
Margot Wallström (right) could become Stefan Löfven's new Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo: TT

Women set to dominate top post-election jobs

Sweden could soon get a female Foreign Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt's ousted Moderate Party is preparing for its first woman leader and the grandmother of actor Hugh Grant's son is being tipped as Parliament's next Speaker. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
The 'black gold' of Sweden's west coast.
National
West Sweden prepares for the 2014 lobster premiere
Society
What's on in Sweden
Politics
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Politics
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Gallery
Property of the week - Eskilstuna
Blog updates

20 September

How a Frog Can Save the Environment (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"What we do we imagine when we think of children enjoying nature? Perhaps it’s fishing, marveling at lightning bugs on a muggy July day or blowing on the wispy petals of a dandelion to make a special wish. But perhaps most iconic of the playful innocence in childhood is hopping after and trying to catch..." READ »

 

19 September

Editor’s blog (The Local Sweden) »

"Happy Friday readers! It sure has been a exciting week in Sweden, where we’re set to get a new Prime Minister after Fredrik Reinfeldt stepped down following Sunday’s elections. The Local blogged live from the key political gatherings across Stockholm. Why not re-visit the action by taking a look at our photos, tweets, videos and analysis? Since the..." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
How I became a surf blogger when I moved to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Gallery
People-watching: September 11th
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Politics
Five possible election outcomes
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Gallery
Property of the week - Hornstull, Stockholm
Analysis
Five differences between the UK and Sweden
Welshman Jonny Luck is now a chef in Sweden
Society
How I opened my own restaurant in Sweden's Malmö
Sponsored Article
Stockholm tech fest: relive the magic
Gallery
People-watching September 8th
Photo: TT
Politics
Feminists fight for first seats
Politics
Immigration cut push from Sweden Democrats
Sheryl Sandberg says women have "low expectations"
Tech
Facebook exec talks women's limits in Swedish business
Politics
Left Party calls for justice and equality
Politics
Green Party wants 'better world' for kids
Lifestyle
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

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 Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

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

867
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
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN