6 Ways to Manage Projects Like a Nordic

The Nordic countries are frequently featured in the news for their egalitarian lifestyles, high performing education systems and technological innovations.

Taking a leaf out of the Nordics’ book can help you rethink how you manage your projects. Switch up your project management Nordic-style to become a better project manager. It’s up to you what ideas you decide to run with: use anything that resonates and take it back to your organization.

In this article, you’ll learn 6 ways to incorporate Nordic style into your project management.

Kayleigh Töyrä
Kayleigh Töyrä

1. Go flat

Hierarchy in Nordic organizations is often flat with a team-led atmosphere. This non-hierarchical attitude to management is deeply embedded in the Nordic psyche, founded on a national culture where entire communities had to pool resources in order to survive in harsh climates.

A freer managerial structure means that employees take fuller ownership of their team’s work, feeling empowered to make suggestions and point out improvements where they see fit.

The Nordics aren’t fans of restrictive rules like work uniforms and tend to shy away from overt displays of power or hierarchy. (Their much-lauded educational establishments are founded on the same egalitarian lines.)

You try it:

  • Emphasize team accountability over individual responsibility for projects.
  • Consider whether hierarchy is positive, or whether it’s introducing unnecessary boundaries and friction into your team and slowing your project down.
  • Don’t just use management. Empower everyone to become better leaders as well.

2. Don’t overdo it

Nordics know how important balance is and advocate a level-headed attitude to work and play. They work hard, but they expect to be able to enjoy a healthy and balanced life outside of work.

Many Nordic companies support employees’ personal development through company schemes that encourage people to walk outside and eat better. During the short and warm summers, city dwellers leave their homes in droves, escaping to the country for weeks on end. Their attitude to life is relaxed and they understand the importance of rest and rejuvenation.

In 2015, Sweden’s six hour workday made headlines around the world. Making people work less is actually a proven productivity booster. Could those laid back Swedes be on to something here?

You try it:

  • Successful project managers know that downtime is a big factor for a project’s overall success. Build it into your schedule.
  • Get the team outside and doing other things to refresh their brains. Look for ways to improve team creativity.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut down on project team hours: favor productivity over filling in hours on a time sheet.
  • Don’t restrict people’s personal lives with unrealistic targets and hours. You’ll just demotivate and alienate them.

3. Encourage slow thinking

Nordic aesthetic, culture and wisdom revolve around solitude and the importance of taking your time to reach conclusions. Communities can help us think clearly, but solitude is also a great way to get much-needed distance from a project.

Nordics emphasize the importance of reflection and respect people who reach conclusions after a measured and solitary weighing up of pros and cons. Thinking ‘slowly’ is a great way to unearth deeper project truths and insights.

You try it:

  • Embrace slow and quiet thinking as well as loud team brainstorming. Don’t get caught up in only listening to those in your team who shout the loudest and react the fastest.
  • Recognize when teams are tired and need a break from each other and their projects. Give people a chance to relax and be alone if they need it.
  • Build a results-based culture instead of one that rewards people for long hours.

4. Practice ethical business

The Nordics are big on sustainability and business ethics thanks to their passion for the rugged landscape and their championing of the underdog. Their ethical emphasis underpins their holistic approach to business success, profits and project outcomes.

Read next: Ethics tips for project managers.

Nordic brands emphasize quality over quantity and like to create products that reflect the world around them. Entrepreneurs and start-ups are able to access government funding and offer a valid alternative to global conglomerations.

You try it:

  • Harmonize projects with the world outside instead of trying to fight it. Use natural shapes and colors to lead your visual palette.
  • Support open-source technology and people-led projects. Try to work with local suppliers and support independent business.
  • Practice project management ethically and diplomatically.

5. Play fair

The Nordic ‘fair play’ mentality means that everyone is given a fair chance. From giving women a fair(er) chance in board rooms to football teams where everyone gets some pitch time, the concept of playing fair creates a positive team culture and project culture.

If everyone knows that they are being given a fair chance, people won’t feel the need to agitate as much. That should reduce team conflict (although it is always worth having a few conflict resolution strategies on hand in case you need them).

You try it:

  • Make team and project bonuses clear and open. Don’t overuse bonuses based on individual performance.
  • Give everyone a chance to speak and encourage meetings where the floor is ‘open’.
  • Don’t pander to seniority and let people influence the project on all levels.

6. Form strategic partnerships

The Nordics encourage cross-regional support and summits, with many Nordic companies and industries coming together on a regular basis to share ideas and knowledge and reaffirm their regional identity.

Nordics understand the value and importance of partnership in driving key projects forwards.

You try it:

  • Explore whether there are companies in your region you should be making connections with. Organize meetings and knowledge share.
  • Support the local business community with your project if you can.
  • Explore similar projects and initiatives that have been done in the past- can you learn from others?

The Nordics are about so much more than just murder mysteries and flat pack furniture! Do you think any of these traits benefit project managers? Let us know in our Facebook group.

This article first appeared on the blog in 2016 and has been lightly edited since then.