Maybe it was centuries of learning from other cultures; maybe it was decades of investing in their own growth — whatever caused it, it’s undeniable: Scandinavian countries are flourishing. In fact, they are leading the rest of the world in almost every measure:
- Denmark boasts some of the highest happiness ratings in the world.
- Norway has the highest population growth in Europe.
- Sweden claims the title of Innovation Leader awarded by the EU.
- Finland is number two in the world for gender parity.
Even more astonishing to entrepreneurs is the fact that Nordic nations have largely avoided the economic slowdown suffered by the rest of the world, meaning businesses across Scandinavia are more competitive than ever.
This begs the question: Why are these countries so fortunate? And more importantly: How can entrepreneurs instill similar qualities in their organizations to establish widespread happiness and productivity?
The American organizational structure establishes a team lead, a manager, a director, a vice president — an ever-escalating line of supervisors intent on interfering with a team’s work. However, that hierarchy is detrimental to productivity. It dis-empowers lower-level employees, encouraging them to disengage from their efforts.
Instead, entrepreneurs should consider the Scandinavian organizational style, which emphasizes teams rather than leaders. Small, autonomous teams demand accountability from each employee while providing workers with a sense of ownership of their projects. Additionally, it encourages each employee to consistently improve; even workers without a business degree might pursue an MBA just to continue to contribute to the team.
From start to finish, a big project could last several months or more. During that time, it is easy for team members to come and go, for clients to reimagine the project’s goals, for bosses to alter rigid guidelines and for the project to crash and burn. Large projects are difficult to plan and manage, and they often suffer from misinterpretation and generate contempt amongst workers.
The Scandinavians have largely done away with big, longstanding projects, instead opting for digestible tasks. Each team member is assigned an actionable job, and all of these jobs contribute to an overarching, specific goal. This empowers employees, again, to contribute to projects without fear of doing more than their peers or overstepping their limits.
Given that both teams and projects are done differently in Scandinavia, readers might assume that Scandinavians revolutionize their goal-making — maybe even doing away with goals altogether. The truth is that Scandinavian companies still set big goals, but they work toward their goals in different ways.
For example, it isn’t uncommon for there to be true, total transparency within an organization. A CEO might create a quarterly internal memo with data regarding the business’s cash flow and monthly recurring revenue. This bonds workers together through trust and helps workers share responsibility for successes and failures. American entrepreneurs should
In the traditional 40-hour work week, employees spend more time in the office than they enjoy with their families. Thus, it is vital that workers feel comfortable and true to themselves in their positions at work. The flat management style of Scandinavia is especially effective at this because there are few authority figures capable of instilling fear or shame due to failure or waste.
Instead, Scandinavians have more autonomy to apply their special talents or interests to their work. Even if American entrepreneurs are loath to abandon the typical hierarchical structure, they should encourage employees to experiment and leverage their passions for success.
When anyone in a business finds success, that success should be celebrated. In America, office parties are often reserved for seasonal birthdays and large holidays, but in Scandinavia, organizations focus on achievements as reasons for festivity. Because there is no hierarchy of authority, and because information is freely distributed, good news travels fast, allowing everyone to revel in even small wins.
Scandinavian leaders are liberal with their use of rewards, especially to those who demonstrate loyalty to the organization. American entrepreneurs should consider adopting similar methods of recognition and appreciation to engender similar levels of joy in their teams.
In America, the only thing worse than the typical 10 days of PTO per year is unlimited vacation time. That’s because American workplaces are rife with passion-aggression re: vacation days. American workers are terrified to use their vacations for fear that not coming to work makes them seem lazy or disinterested in the job.
In Scandinavia, a failure to take vacation days is a red flag. Scandinavian organizations understand that workers cannot function well for extended periods without breaks, so there is a genuine interest in making employees leave work, relax, unplug and find new experiences. Though no Scandinavian nation requires workers to use their PTO, they do offer upwards of five weeks of paid vacation per year, and employees aren’t afraid to take advantage of it.