The other day someone asked me, “How does it feel like to do group work in a non-hierarchical society like Sweden?”
That got me thinking.
For a start, Swedes do say that their society is non-hierarchical. Google “flat hierarchy Sweden” and you’ll get tons of results. The Swedish Institute talks about how it contributes to innovation in the country.
But what does it actually mean?
Teamwork in Sweden
Before I started at the Stockholm School of Economics, I had already lived in Sweden for six months during my internship with International IDEA. However, since the office was very international, I didn’t get to experience what Swedes meant when they said “non-hierarchical work structure”.
As part of the MSc in Business and Management, students have to do a Field Project where we work in groups with a company for the whole semester. Of course this means lots of group work together!
Some characteristics I’ve noticed about group work:
- absence of an authority figure
- everyone’s opinion is valued
- consensus decision-making
- everyone participates
For many non-Swedes in my class, not having a leader feels a bit strange. Indeed, in everyday life where there are clear hierarchies in government and politics, it can take some getting used to.
My team certainly has a flat hierarchy and it’s been a great experience so far. We don’t have a designated leader, we make decisions as a team, and everyone contributes.
The best thing about this flat structure is that you can really go from group work to teamwork. There isn’t an authority figure you have to follow… because you’re part of the decision-making process too! You have a lot more responsibility but you also have the chance to express your opinion about what you like or dislike.
The (occasional) downside is that sometimes it’s hard to move on when you have to get the opinion of others. One thing that my team decided is that we can make minor decisions individually, on behalf of the team, if they don’t affect our overall project.
So far, teamwork here in Sweden has been really eye-opening to me. I grew up in Singapore and spent my university days in the US and UK—each country was big on having a hierarchy and a leader! In some ways, my experience in Sweden has shown me a (sometimes radically) different way of doing things in life.
We have an internship as part of the MBM programme, so I’m looking forward to seeing how flat hierarchies and consensus decision-making takes place in the office. Internships are great for experiencing teamwork so definitely do one if you can!