Invitations to meetings in Sweden usually come by e-mail with an agenda – not too detailed and planned to the minute – attached. However, it is of decisive significance to take care of a good and relaxed atmosphere. Everybody should be allowed to have a say.
The Swedes Also Want A Say
Foreign businesspeople often ›complain‹ that Swedes do not stick to agreements. The decision was made together in a meeting!
What the participants often do not think about or notice is that in many countries communication is very quick and often overlapping. It happens quite often that people interrupt each other, and if they do not, a statement and a counter-statement follow each other without a break.
That is not the case for meetings in Sweden. It is crudely impolite to interrupt a speaker and generally there is a slight pause before an answer is given. If there is not that slight pause Swedes see no chance to say something! And foreign colleagues wonder why the Swedes are not joining in the discussion! Apart from that, the Swedes like to discuss by means of consensus.
In some countries, colleagues often regard each other as rivals and in discussions and try to push their own interests. Swedes see colleagues as friends and try to find a consensus during meetings.
Those Swedish ways of acting are intimately linked with the need for omtanke. As already it is essential that everybody has a good feeling – and you are (collectively) responsible for that. So consciously make sure that in meetings the Swedes have their say; on the basis of equality, it is important that each and every person has the chance to express themselves.
That is the task of the moderator during meetings in Sweden. That role is taken over by the person who invited everyone else to the meeting. That does not at all have to be the person in the highest position in the hierarchy.
Defining The Goal
That Swedes apparently do not stick to agreements can have another cause: Businesspeople from abroad may expect a decision to be reached at the end of a meeting in Sweden. Swedes do not. Swedes go to a meeting to find a consensus.
But generally, you cannot achieve that in a single meeting – especially not when there are strong-willed people sitting at the same table who like to present contrary points of view. So, the first meeting in a decision-making process in Sweden often has a brainstorming character, just like the second and perhaps a third meeting.
A decision is reached only when after several get-togethers a consensus has been found. That procedure often gives colleagues from other countries an impression of inefficiency. So after the (first) meeting they summarise the conversation, record the (alleged) result perhaps in writing and believe a decision has been taken. But from the Swedish point of view, it has not.
So the Swedes do not stick to the (alleged) decisions of their foreign partners but keep on reopening the same topics time after time in the hope of finding a consensus.
You see how easy it is to despair of the decision-making if you do not understand the other side and do not know how decisions are made there. Do not assume that your implicitly understood goal is automatically shared by the Swedes.
Set A Goal
Hence, if you invite Swedes to a meeting, inform them straight away what the goal of the meeting is from your point of view. If the goal is a decision the Swedes too will be well prepared and will strive for a mutual decision. If the goal of the meeting is brainstorming, the foreign colleagues won’t feel they have failed and been inefficient if there is no clear decision at the end.
Since Swedes are all-rounders and all equal, for them it is essential that at a meeting they get an overall view and are comprehensively involved in the decision making. Transparency should be achieved because they want to know why a decision was made and how. If that is not the case they will keep questioning, and that can be incredibly nerve-racking.
What Are Minutes?
Writing minutes during or after meetings are common in Sweden. But the function of the minutes can lead to misunderstandings. In some countries staff may think they simply have to summarise the (long) meeting discussions, and that that is then a binding agreement – what is written down, is what counts!
For Swedes, minutes are a summary of the meeting – no more, no less. Of course, all aspects, consultations, and ideas that resulted in those minutes flow into the next discussion. Only that way, from the Swedish point of view, can a lasting consensus be found.
Apart from that, what is written is no more important to Swedes than oral agreements. The belief that you can ›nail down‹ Swedes with a written summary is simply erroneous.
When Is A Decision Made?
What is a burning issue for foreign colleagues and business partners is the eternal question of how the Swedes are going to reach a decision and after which meeting it will be final? Swedes do not at all have the need for such a clear starting signal, since in any case they are engaged in a constant communicative process with their colleagues.
For the Swedes, used to consensus and the Swedish decision-making process, it is quite clear when a decision is final. But even Swedes cannot describe the obvious external signs of that. It is just the way it is. That is obviously not a satisfactory answer for you!
But what you certainly can do – having defined the goal of the meeting and made sure of an integral way of viewing things – is to ask whether the next planned steps on your side are reasonable at this point in time. What would the Swedes do and how, and what else would have to be considered from the Swedish point of view?
Perhaps you can draw some precise indications from the answers of how definite the decision on the Swedish side already is, and whether you should go into action or push for further meetings in Sweden.
In Sweden you will always have to ask questions, communicate and be ready for alterations. The world of business is open, uncertain, and forever changing – and Swedes can live remarkably well with that without having an uncomfortable feeling of having to plan, organise, and lay a hand on everything. That people in other countries might like just that is beyond Swedish imagination.
The Swedish way of reaching decisions described above, which takes a long time and demands several meetings, often seems highly inefficient to businesspeople from other countries. But what they do not see is that once the Swedes have decided in consensus, it is generally implemented very quickly, without alterations, flexibly and smoothly.
The time that Swedes invest into meetings to make decisions, is often needed in other countries in the implementation phase. Many aspects that in Sweden are pinpointed, discussed, and decided on in advance, are not considered in other countries and as a result, goals and tasks are often interpreted differently by the teams carrying out the project.
Hence the whole work process of coming to a decision probably takes about the same time in other countries as in Sweden. Swedes invest more time in the initial stages while businesspeople from other countries might focus on the implementation phase.
A presentation during meetings in Sweden is mostly an upfront event supported by PowerPoint. While businesspeople from some countries can sit still and concentrate up to one and a half hours – or at least act as if they were listening attentively – the concentration span of Swedes is generally a maximum of 45 minutes. So, if at all possible your presentation should not last any longer. Swedes like it to be short and sweet.
In a presentation, they expect information on the modernity, quality and technology of a product (or service), as well as delivery deadlines. Of course, the design also plays an important role. Be convincing in a matter-of-fa
ct and friendly manner.
Extract from Business Culture Sweden, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag