25. September 2023

5 Ways Nordic Leadership Can Boost Productivity Through Trust And Flexibility

Article by Petri S. Toivanen

Nordic leadership – a man holding a compass in a snowy pine forest, leading the way
Image by Tobias Aeppli | Pexels

You don’t have to be from Scandinavia to embrace Nordic leadership!

From Norwegian fjords to the bustling streets of Copenhagen, the leadership strategies in Nordic business culture are receiving global attention for their unique, impactful approaches.

Through a blend of trust, flexibility, and shared responsibility, they foster an environment that drives productivity and innovation.

In this post, we’ll explore five ways the Nordic management techniques can empower your workforce and elevate business outcomes.


1. Building a Culture of Trust: The Cornerstone of Nordic Leadership

Nordic leadership is deeply rooted in trust. It shapes a culture where employees feel secure and valued.

Scandinavian leaders view trust as a critical business asset. They invest time and resources in building relationships with their teams, fostering an environment where everyone is encouraged to share their ideas, opinions, and concerns openly.

This is precisely what internationally successful Finnish floorball coach Petri Kettunen told us in an interview about Nordic leadership: "Trust is always key. If you can build trust between two people, then it’s easy to discuss things. It’s good that we in Scandinavia have values that are universal in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and in Finland. We have this trust, it’s important to us."

Laura Spiridovitsh is a double world champion, professional synchronized skating coach in Helsinki, and head coach of Junior World Champions Team Fintastic. For her, it’s crucial that team members know themselves and each other well. As she said in an interview with Nordic Minds: "You cannot have trust if you don’t know who you’re working with."

This trust-based Nordic leadership approach provides a safe space for creativity, innovation, and success. Employees feel more comfortable taking calculated risks, knowing that they have the support of their leaders. This culture, a hallmark of Nordic leadership, drives employee engagement by creating a positive work environment.

How To Do It:

Consider adopting a relaxed tone instead of rigid formality. Use first names rather than surnames and titles and connect on a personal level. The flat organizational structure of Nordic companies promotes casual interactions between managers and employees.

Aim to be direct, yet tactful. Get straight to the point while maintaining a friendly, respectful tone to avoid coming across as blunt. Clarify expectations upfront, so there are no ambiguities. Follow through consistently on what you say you will do to establish reliability.

Keep your colleagues informed through frequent updates. The transparent culture of Scandinavian business emphasizes keeping all stakeholders in the loop. Avoid an attitude of secrecy or compartmentalization of information. Instead, proactively provide status reports to your team. Promote information-sharing across departments and levels. However, be careful not to inundate your colleagues with trivial details and unnecessary emails.

Adjusting your communication to align with Nordic business culture can lead to stronger relationships and heightened trust. Building rapport through participative interactions will support your shared success and drive results.


2. Embracing Flexibility: The Nordic Leadership Approach to Work-Life Integration

Flexibility is another key aspect of the leadership practices in Nordic countries.

Achieving a healthy work-life integration has become a priority for today’s workforce. Employees are searching for roles that offer flexibility and autonomy while providing meaning and purpose.

That’s where Nordic leadership comes in. While long work hours may be the norm in many competitive corporate cultures, Scandinavian-style management takes a more holistic view. Nordic leaders understand and respect the value of work-life integration. Employees are individuals with rich personal lives and responsibilities outside the office.

Nordic managers know that a fulfilling personal life promotes greater happiness, health, and productivity on the job. By embracing flexibility and work-life integration, leaders can boost employee satisfaction, morale, productivity, and retention—all of which lead to better performance and results.

Nordic companies focus on measurable outcomes rather than face time at the office. In practice, this means that Scandinavian leadership often encourages flexible schedules, remote work, and generous leave policies, giving employees the freedom to blend work and life in a way that suits their needs.

Nordic leaders trust their team to manage their own time and tasks. Nordic leadership empowers people to work in ways that fit their lifestyles while still driving strong performance and meeting goals. Where there is trust, there is no need for micromanaging.

How To Do It:

Work-life integration is a tangible cultural value in a Nordic management approach, not just an abstract policy.

Promote regular open communication about flexibility needs. Nordic leaders check in frequently, so they can accommodate changes in family circumstances or outside commitments. Don’t make assumptions—ask about flexibility, then collaborate to find solutions. For example, implement part-time schedules or job sharing. 

Be transparent about organizational constraints, but also creative in exploring possibilities. Make sure to set clear expectations around responsiveness and availability to avoid disruption. Core hours, realistic deadlines, and regular status updates maintain accountability amidst autonomy.

Nordic leaders don't overload teams with work volumes that require excessive overtime. They set realistic deadlines and staff projects accordingly to allow for downtime between high-intensity periods. If overwork regularly jeopardizes employees’ non-work commitments, revisit how workloads, processes, and resources can be adjusted. Discourage an "always on" mentality. Lead by example by being thoughtful about after-hours calls, emails and meeting times.

In addition to schedule and location flexibility, consider offering role flexibility. Invite discussions about job crafting or rotating assignments. Rather than rigidly adhering to job descriptions, keep an open mind to customizing roles. People evolve. They develop new skills and interests. Use that energy and drive.

This high level of flexibility and trust in Nordic leadership sends a powerful message to employees—that their personal well-being and growth are as important as their professional output.

The Nordic leadership approach not only improves job satisfaction and reduces burnout but also increases productivity. Employees feel happier, more motivated, and more committed to their work. Absenteeism decreases.

When employees feel confident their personal needs will be respected, they invest fully at work. People perform best when their lives incorporate time for rest, relationships and rejuvenation.

With its emphasis on flexibility and balance, the Nordic leadership approach to work-life integration offers lessons for leaders worldwide. Many Nordic countries rank among the most competitive and prosperous, proving that flexibility doesn’t undermine productivity. In fact, organizations with work-life integration often gain an edge in attracting and retaining top talent. Ethical and smart!


3. Flat Organizational Structures: A Staple of Nordic Management Techniques

Under Nordic leadership, the traditional hierarchical structure gives way to a more egalitarian model that favors flat organizational structures with fewer levels of management.

Laura Spiridovitsh, who has coached and skated in countries like the Netherlands, China, and the US, knows this from first-hand experience: "It’s more hierarchical in other countries. Nordic leadership is part of our culture."

Everyone — regardless of their age or position — is encouraged to contribute. Adopting more democratic structures aligned with Nordic leadership principles has benefits like increased communication, autonomy, and thriving innovation.

Flat structures promote a sense of shared ownership and responsibility, leading to higher levels of employee engagement. With Nordic leadership, team members feel more connected to the company’s goals, driving them to contribute their best efforts.

Moreover, the reduced bureaucracy accelerates decision-making processes, further enhancing productivity.

How To Do It:

Critically examine your organizational chart and eliminate reporting tiers that bog down information flow. Can supervisory roles be condensed or removed between leadership and team members? Can reporting procedures be streamlined? The goal is to shrink the distance between executives and staff to encourage direct interactions and quicker decisions. However, be mindful and don’t overstretch managers.

Expand access to information across levels through transparent communication. Flatten barriers that kept some knowledge within upper ranks. Share budgets, project data, client feedback, and strategy updates to equalize insights.

Invite participation. Leaders should actively solicit input from all employees, not just other executives. Nordic leaders tend to have a consensus-driven approach—all voices are heard before making decisions. However, be careful not to slow down progress. Balance democratic inclusion and decisiveness.

Nordic leadership allows personnel to exercise independent judgment without constantly seeking permission. Set clear goals and parameters, then step back and let people implement solutions suited to their work. Coach employees to identify and pursue opportunities without waiting for directives. Leaders should offer support. Not rigid orders.

Build a sense of community. Open office designs, communal break rooms, cross-functional project teams, social events, and managers eating alongside staff all integrate various levels. Find ways to facilitate casual chats across reporting lines.

Maintain an open door policy. Seek out and listen to ideas from interns to long-timers. Admit when you don’t have all the answers. Treat every employee with equal dignity regardless of title—no preferential parking spots or dining areas. Demonstrate that you value each person’s contributions.

Shifting to a flatter organizational structure takes time but brings substantial rewards. Fewer reporting tiers boost satisfaction, equity, and inclusion. With Nordic leadership models, information flows faster, allowing for quicker reactions. Employees feel more committed when given a voice.

Your organization can become more agile, egalitarian, and integrated through Nordic leadership approaches.


4. Empowering Employees: The Nordic Leadership's Key to Success

Empowerment lies at the heart of Nordic leadership. Scandinavian leaders believe in the potential of their employees. They are seen as partners in driving the business, not as operatives executing top-down orders.

Nordic leadership entails the freedom to take risks and fail without penalty—within reason. Employees shouldn’t fear punishment if ideas don’t pan out. Of course, this autonomy needs to be balanced with oversight for large risks.

This trust in employees’ abilities promotes a sense of ownership over their work. Adopting an empowerment mindset aligned with Nordic leadership principles allows companies to fully leverage their human capital.

Or, as international Floorball coach Petri Kettunen puts it: "You have to give equal opportunities to everyone. That’s true for both business and team sports like floorball. Then you get loyalty."

How To Do It:

Provide context about visions and goals so employees understand how their work connects. Explain the big picture behind projects to make people feel inspired, not instructed. "If you don’t have a vision for why you are working and what you are working towards, it’s hard to find the motivation. It’s very important to find a common goal," Laura Spiridovitsh describes her experience as an internationally successful coach.

Equipped with a shared vision, employees then have the freedom to determine the best methods. Let staff run small pilot projects to test new concepts without micromanaging every detail. "The better the team starts to work on its own and the smaller my role gets—that’s my success," says Spiridovitsh. "The better they solve the problems and challenges we have during the season, the better they can do that together, the better a coach I am."

Encourage critical thinking and problem solving. Ask staff to identify challenges and brainstorm solutions. Say "what are your ideas on how we might..." versus "here is exactly what you need to do". Validate good ideas with positive feedback and resources to execute them.

Link rewards to the specific impact employees have. Everyone needs appreciation for empowerment to take hold. A Nordic management style means recognition and praise beyond compensation. While fair pay is important, highlighting achievements publicly fuels engagement and pride. Spotlight project wins, customer kudos, and milestones in team meetings or newsletters.

Ultimately, employee empowerment comes down to respect. "They understand that I respect their thoughts. Then they actively bring up their own points of views," says Laura Spiridovitsh. "I try to make sure they feel that their point of views are listened to and respected every time they bring them up."

Nordic leadership philosophies recognize that staff are professionals worthy of autonomy. When granted trust and opportunity, they apply their full talents. The leadership strategies in Nordic business culture show that empowering employees leads to an improved business performance.


5. Continuous Learning and Development: A Pillar of Scandinavian Leadership

Nordic leadership places a strong emphasis on continuous learning and employee development at all levels. Ongoing training, skill development programs, and educational opportunities are seen as integral long-term investments in human capital across Scandinavian organizations.

Providing avenues for professional growth aligns with Nordic values and helps unleash the full potential of staff. Leaders aiming to adopt the people-centric Nordic leadership model should concentrate on making development a cultural pillar. This fosters a growth mindset among employees, encouraging them to improve and innovate.

Scandinavian leaders budget adequately for training and education across the organization. It is important to be generous with time and funding allotted for learning activities. For example, multi-day immersive programs, workshops, speaker series, and retreats that fully engage participants. With Nordic leadership, staff development is seen as invaluable rather than a discretionary expense.

How To Do It:

Build individualized development plans with each employee. Discuss their goals and strengths to chart targeted growth opportunities. Plans should align individual aspirations with organizational needs. Revisit plans quarterly to update progress and evolving needs.

Model continuous learning at the leadership level. Take visible actions like trainings and working with coaches. When leaders prioritize their own growth, it motivates staff to follow suit. You may pick up tips from employees along the way, too!

Encouraging ongoing peer coaching and mentoring relationships is part of a Nordic leadership style. Match promising talents with seasoned veterans for sharing practical wisdom. Or buddy up colleagues across departments for cross-training. Peers often provide the most contextual development opportunities through collaboration.

Link learning and career progression. Show how skills prepare employees for future roles they aspire to. For example: let high-potential staff "try on" next level jobs via short-term assignments or acting positions. And offer pay bumps upon completing certifications.

With Nordic leadership, ongoing education is a cherished cultural value—not an occasional perk. Employees should feel passionately that their development matters. Managers must provide opportunities, resources, and encouragement.

When growth becomes an organizational habit, spectacular individual and business performance follows. As a result, companies can keep up with industry changes and maintain a competitive edge.


Trust, Transparency, Flexibility… And Much More!

Nordic leadership, with its focus on trust, flexibility, flat organizational structures, employee empowerment, and continuous learning, provides a compelling blueprint for boosting productivity. Nordic leadership practices provide a roadmap for nurturing highly engaged and productive teams.

By embracing Nordic leadership principles, organizations can foster a culture of trust, empower their employees, and create a flexible work environment that fuels innovation and success. Employees thrive and productivity soars.

As businesses continue to evolve, adopting Nordic leadership techniques can be a valuable asset in navigating the challenges of the modern workplace and driving productivity to new heights. Organizations can achieve sustainable growth, create a positive work culture, and maximize their overall productivity and success.

Remember, it’s not just about adopting these practices, but about embracing the philosophy behind them.

By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to harnessing the power of Nordic leadership and reaping the benefits in the form of increased productivity and a more engaged workforce.