A typical characteristic in the Nordics is weather obsession. Any day, at any time of the year, you can ask us about the exact temperature, both of the air and of the water and for the coming days. This obsession has kept us alive. Unlike our brothers and sisters in the south of Europe, we’re subject to the weather and have been forced to live our lives accordingly.
We have to maximise our efforts when opportunity is given. In spring and summer we cultivate, in autumn and winter we harvest and plan. Not being able to immediately put ideas into action, but instead form the plan, create the tools before we put plans into action and work against a very sharp deadline called frost, is a process we have refined for over 1,000 years. And it has turned out to be a factor of our success in a modern, tech world. Most of us working in the tech industry are more than familiar with the importance of a solid process based on the steps: plan, perform and refine.
But the harsh living conditions in the Nordics have given us an extra superpower – to understand the importance of collaboration and trust. Our ancestors were heavily dependent on family and neighbours to survive and succeed. If you ran out of firewood in January, you would literally freeze to death if your neighbours weren’t there to help you out. And if the neighbour’s horse got stuck in the snow, all hands were instantly needed to save the creature.
Over time this has become a foundation in our society, a contract built on trust and commitment. When expertise and assets are scarce resources for everyone, it makes sense to collaborate and include – because building a strong society improves the ability for everyone to survive and succeed, a true win-win situation.
In our modern society this is expressed in one of the world’s highest tax commitments, committing to alcohol regulations, a strong focus on equality for all, as well as strong belief in democratic values and support across borders.
Frequently referred to as socialism, I must say that labeling is misleading. This is beyond politics; collaboration is a cornerstone in Swedish culture with a strong conviction that it is the path to success.
Tyler Crowley, founder of STHLM TECH identified the collaboration between public sector, universities and Swedish companies as one of the biggest factors of the country’s tech success. With Sweden being the second largest unicorn factory in the world per capita, and with an overall long tradition of building strong, global companies, I would say he’s right.
So based on the cultural aspects, how do you create a successful collaboration with Swedish companies? My best pieces of advice would be:
- Be transparent and clear and come to the table with the intention to create a win-win agreement. Swedes being informal is not to be taken as a sign of naivety. We expect that each party play it fair and just give promises that can be kept. Don’t over-promise and don’t hesitate to raise your concerns. Remember that you’re discussing a collaboration! If you’re able to deliver on the agreement you will earn trust and a long-term commitment.
- Commit to the plan. Make sure that you understand the business model and the company’s shared values. Make sure that this is clear to all your coworkers. And don’t misinterpret the informal management style as a sign of sloppiness. The deadline is dead serious and the expectations on high-quality delivery as well.
- Challenge the plan. In a true collaboration you always strive to improve performance and result as well as acting responsible with time and assets. The best way, to make your Swedish partner trust you, is to show that the overall result matters to you and your coworkers.
I know that we Swedes have a reputation of being self-righteous, so of course, I have to put this into a larger context. I honestly believe that if we, in Europe, could act less as traders and more like collaborators, we would create a successful win-win situation. So, let’s put the magic ingredient on the table.