What You Need to Know Before Going to Sweden
Sigma Software is a part of Swedish Sigma Group since 2006, so we have a vast experience in communications with this country. We know what is important for Swedes, what to look for, and how to make them happy, that’s why we have many successful projects in Sweden and our Swedish customers return to us.
It was a first wave of M&A (merge and acquisitions) deals in Ukraine in 2006 and we never had an idea to merge with a bigger company. However, we got a few offers during this period from different companies, from Russia, from the USA, and finally, from Sweden. There is an interesting long story behind the scenes, which is worth a separate article. However, to make a long story short, one of the key ideas behind our merge with Sigma was access to big brands like Volvo, SAS, and others on the Swedish market, as well as democratic Swedish approach and entrepreneurship spirit that are the base, on which Sigma Group is built.
I can share many stories and findings regarding Swedish culture, however to start with, I would make an overview of my favorite ones.
1. “This is Very-Very Not So Good”
Swedes avoid conflict, and they tend to express criticism in a very mild form. But don’t trick yourself into ignoring such veiled criticism. You need to respond adequately. Otherwise, you can lose your client. When a Swede is saying something is bad – that normally means the end of relations.
If a Swede says “This is very-very not so good,” it means that it is very bad, however, it can be solved until “very bad” is pronounced literally. If you hear that your client “expected a slightly different result,” you’ll probably need to re-do a lot.
2. Individual vs. Collective
All Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway) share a specific attitude to individual success and achievements. Any result is perceived as a common achievement, not an outcome of a specific person’s effort. Here we go to the description of the Law of Jante.
Swedes like to be successful together, not personally, all the discussions are open and the decision couldn’t be made until everyone is happy. It’s quite opposite to other cultures like America or post USSR. Swedes don’t like hierarchy, the organizations are very flat; everyone can meet anyone including top management and speak freely.
Swedes love doing things together and are quite self-managed. A good example of this is how the lunch is normally organized. Swedes go together for lunch, usually to a self-service place. Everyone, including top management, gathers plates after the lunch, puts forks and knives staying in the line into separate places, removes the garbage from plates, helping other people in the café to handle washing.
In Sweden, if you have a higher rank in the hierarchy, it is customary that you suggest serving coffee with cakes to other people, who share lunch with you. You bring coffee from the coffee machines to the table to all, who sits there, from junior specialists to a marketing director. Of course, there are fancy places for lunch, but only few Swedes go there.
3. You Better Like Coffee
An important part of Swedish lifestyle is Fika – socializing, meeting with friends over a cup of coffee. Traditional Fika is a time during your working day, somewhere between 9 AM and 10 AM, when everyone from the office gathers to drink coffee, and have some pastries and sweets. Many questions are discussed during Fika. It’s a possibility to communicate in an informal environment, to step aside from business etiquette, to find out more about people you work with.
Fika at workplace is much more than a coffee break, which we, who are not accustomed to this tradition, should be aware of. If you work on site at your client’s office and you are offered to have a fika, you are not supposed to say “no”. This can be considered as your unwillingness to get to know the Swedish colleagues, and can characterize you as a weird and not social person.
Meetings are important; however, a lot of decisions are taken during coffee time (but not on the Fika). So, coffee is an integral part of Swede’s life, when you can enter the cafeteria and speak to a complete stranger about different things, not being obliged to anything. To find out more about fika, see this video made by Swedes to explain foreigners this tradition Fika: To Have Coffee – Episode 1: The Ritual.
4. Entrepreneurial Spirit
With 9 million people population, Sweden is not a huge country, but it’s a birthplace of many innovations (zipper, seatbelt, matches) and world-wide brands, including enterprises (IKEA, Volvo, Ericsson, SAS), musical bands (ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, E-Type), and many more. Either due to taxation specifics or a national character, Swedes are very motivated to start own business and, as facts show, are very successful in that. So, if you consider startups as your prospective customers, Sweden is your Field of Miracles. I think it is the country with the biggest amount of world-known brands per capita in the world.
Some interesting facts about entrepreneurship:
- Almost 10% BUSD exits in Nordics
- Stockholm has the biggest number of unicorns per capita in the world
- Some call Stockholm a Second Silicon Valley
- 4th country in the world by Internet usage (94.0% people connected)
Source: the Internet Infrastructure Foundation, iis.se.
5. Swedish vs. Ukrainian way of working
We tend to have a quite formal way of working in Ukraine. When we get a task from the client, we make sure to approve the assumption, scope of working, and the estimate. After that, we see that the task is done properly within the approved framework and in compliance with the customer’s idea.
Swedes, however, do it differently. When Swedes get a task, they first try to clearly understand the customer’s business and estimate the level of expectations (e.g. what kind of budget the client would be willing to spend and how the product will be used). They might also go an extra mile by suggesting their view on the problem (if it is different from the client's one) or do some extra activities connected to the task that the customer might have forgotten to mention.
I believe that this level of Swedish initiative is explained by their flat organizations and the culture, where everyone’s ideas are welcomed. This peculiarity is quite important to be aware of when we are working with the Swedes, because it is something that they expect from us as well.
This article is a foundation to start getting to know Sweden. There are more amazing facts about this country and its people, which we are always eager to learn.
I would like to thank Nataly Duyko for her valuable contribution to this article. Nataly started her career as PR Manager at Sigma Software, first working with the Ukrainian market and later on as a consultant for the Swedish-based company Sigma Technology. Starting from the end of 2015, she has been living in Sweden and working as PR & Communications Manager for Sigma Technology in Gothenburg. Nataly has a keen interest in the Swedish language and culture that she eagerly shares with us.