Six Curious Business Culture Elements in Norway

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[Disclaimer: back in 2006, Svein Rennemo ( – chairman of StatoilHydro and Statnett – two major companies in Norway) gave a presentation regarding business culture in Norway. I was not present at his delivery, nor have I seen his notes. And nobody gave me a synopsis. But I did see two slides, online. They are the basis for this post, where the opinions expressed are entirely my own, and/or exaggerated for effect.]

Imagine six characters sitting around a table. They are all virtues in the work place. They are enthusiastic, working well together, and they complement each other. They are six hallmarks of behavior and attitudes of Norwegian businesses, large and small.

They are called: Team, Open, Involve, Consensus, Careful, Egalitarian – and they sit at the table of Responsibility.

Team makes sure that everybody is on the same page. We are unified, we work together. The sense of team is fostered, encouraged and promoted in Norwegian business settings.

Open fills the next chair at this table. Being open and direct is viewed as a strength. Especially being open with competitors, customers and partners. Share the goal, the incentives, the plan, the mission statement. Norwegians love being open.

Involve. Everybody is involved. Involvement ensures that the input of all, almost regardless of background, experience and training is included.

Consensus. We get everybody on board, onto the same page, then we move. With the mutual agreement and understanding, we are a force to be reckoned with.

Careful. Norwegians are careful. Being thus attentive, we do a wonderful job of not alienating clients, hurting the emotions of workers globally, nor would we breach any legislation, rule, tradition or paragraph. It is not for nothing that we are designated as the “most obedient kid,” in the EU – and we are not even a member-state!

Egalitarian. Norwegians did away with the nobility. Wait, that came out sounding more gruesome than intended. Almost 200 years ago, we did away with the bestowal of titles of nobility, by discontinuing the inheritance of such titles. So we tend to be rather informal in our approach towards each other. We are all on equal ground, more or less.

These six characters are generally seen as positives by Norwegian employers and employees alike.

They are all good, right?

Think again.

When businesswomen and men from non-Scandinavian cultures look at the same six characters – something is lost in translation, and the six morph into a uncongenial crew of business calamity. The positives become negatives. With an outcome that tends to baffle and confound the Norwegians involved.

The element of team can easily be seen as running away from responsibility.

Being Open is very often understood as being naïve.

Involve is just another term for heavy, unnecessary and complex processes.

Consensus leads to unclear leadership.

Careful – defensive and slow.

Egalitarian & Informal – is undisciplined and lacks respect.

And the table they sit at take on new label: “Norwegians want responsibility, but are not willing to face the consequences.

So there you have it. Six characteristics that seem positive and admirable, can easily be seen in a completely different light by someone with a different background, culture or agenda. Being professional in a constantly flattening world is not easy.

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