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Working across cultures in Scandinavia and Poland?

Here are 4 cultural differences you need to be aware of
Through experience and research we have found what you should be aware of to get the best and most efficient collaboration in a cross-cultural team of Scandinavians and Poles.

Maybe you might ask yourself, What’s the point of having this cultural focus in a collaboration? How different can we be? As cultural trainers our answer to that is that it’s very important due to the fact that there can be differences in working styles and processes and, furthermore, in mindsets. That’s why it’s crucial to acknowledge these differences, and to have a dialogue in the team about how you want to collaborate to minimise inefficiency, misunderstandings, long process lines and doing tasks twice.

We see that teams that succeed in their cross-cultural collaborations are teams that have discussions about differences and similarities and hereby gain an understanding and work out guidelines for the collaboration.

We have Identified 4 hotspots – the main cultural differences – you have to be aware of when you collaborate in a cross-cultural team with Poles and Scandinavians.


1. Trust
Danes and Scandinavians broadly speaking tend to have a general feeling of trust. Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have a long history of high degrees of trust in the state and government – e.g. Denmark is a country with almost no corruption. That gives people a certain amount of trust in the structures of the state, and also the people in it. It also means that Scandinavian people just trust other people. They don’t need to have a personal relation with the people they work with in order to trust them – they just do.

With the Poles it’s different. Trust is not something that you just have. It’s probably that way because there have been so many years of uncertainty in Poland.

This cultural difference can create some issues, because Scandinavians tend to underestimate the importance of building a personal relationship with Polish colleagues. That’s why it’s so important to remember the personal relations regarding building trust in the work-sphere.


3. Hierarchy
There tends to be a very flat hierarchy in Scandinavian organisations. And that’s quite unique, because in most countries globally you will find more hierarchy, and this is also the case in Poland.

This can of course vary quite a bit, but even though Poles and e.g. Danes love to have freedom at work, and in how they solve tasks, Poles still expect that the manager or leader will set the direction and make decisions. And they will not go into discussions with the leader as much as Danes would.

This can create issues because Poles might feel a lack of direction when working with e.g. Danes or Swedes and might feel that working processes are very long and confusing, because everyone has to “be asked” before a decision is made, and no one really seems to give direction.

Danes, for instance, might feel that the leading style in Poland is too much about  “micro-managing”, and they might feel that the Poles are not working proactively enough.


3. Communication styles
This links again a little to the hierarchy.

Poles will generally not like to confront their boss, and they will not feel a need to be involved in every decision made in the organisation.

Whereas in Denmark employees are actually expected to confront their boss with ideas or if they see a better way to do a task. Furthermore, in Denmark, Norway, and especially Sweden there is a tradition for dialogue in relation to making decisions, and Scandinavian employees are motivated by having a say in all decision-making.

In Poland this dialogue will be seen as a waste of time, and as a frustration. For a Pole a discussion is meant as leading to a decision, where in e.g. Sweden the discussion might just be an opportunity for everyone to be heard. Poles might also communicate very minimal with a focus on the task.


4. Working styles
In Poland you generally work longer hours than you do in Scandinavian countries. In e.g. Denmark there is a lot of focus on having work/life balance, where people tend to leave work earlier to pick up kids, and mothers in e.g. Sweden get longer maternity leave.

Furthermore, in both Denmark, Sweden, and Norway there is a tendency to work in groups, communicate a lot, and have slow decision processes which might feel very frustrating to a Pole. Poles tend to work to get things done, and they might be motivated more by seeing things move forward fast with a leader to set the direction.


A recap
To sum up, this difference in trust, hierarchy, communication, and working styles can be challenging if you don’t from the beginning agree on some ground rules for any upcoming collaboration. So don’t hesitate – have a great discussion and hopefully a more efficient collaboration.      


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