Flat hierarchy, ironic comments, direct communication, and a willingness to take responsibility. According to Danes, these are the most important aspects of Danish workplace culture that you need to understand if you are a non-Dane working with Danish colleagues or counterparts.
Every year at C3 Consulting, we conduct many workshops and training programmes that focus on a specific country or culture.
One example could be a workshop for a Danish company that has outsourced some tasks to India.
Now their Danish employees need help dealing with some of the challenges they're experiencing when working with their Indian counterparts.
So they host a workshop. The Danish employees arrive, eager to learn why on earth their Indian counterparts behave so strangely.
But to the surprise of many, we begin with a totally different topic: we actually want to talk about Danish culture.
We do that because at C3 we know that all cultural understanding begins with self-understanding.
We must first understand our own cultural baggage – all the ways we think and act that are so natural to us that we're not even aware of them – before we can begin to understand the important differences between our own culture and others and be able to handle those differences constructively.
So we ask the Danish workshop participants to reflect on their own cultural background by answering questions like this: What do we know about the Danish way of working that is important for our Indian counterparts to know, but that they probably don't know?This cultural self-reflection always leads to lots of interesting responses!
We've decided to share some of those responses here, to highlight Danish cultural self-understanding: What is important for others to know about Danish workplace culture – according to the Danes themselves?
This article is based on Danish participants' reflections about their own cultural background from hundreds of trainings and workshops over the past 13 years.
Do you work with Danish colleagues or business partners? Then read along and see what Danes typically think is important to know about Danish workplace culture.
Are you a Dane? Then read along and see if you agree!
(And yes, of course these Danish workshop participants do also get an explanation of why their Indian collaborators behave so "strangely". An important part of the explanation is that their behaviour is not at all strange when seen from an Indian perspective! If you're curious to learn more about Indian culture, read our blog post here.)
"The Danish organizational structure is more flat and there is less hierarchy than in many other countries. Danes generally don't care too much about authority and won't respect you more just because of your rank. This doesn't mean that there is no hierarchy at all in Danish companies, it's just more subtle, and leaders shouldn't try to control too much".
"It's okay for Danish employees to challenge or question a leader's decision. Just because you are the leader, it doesn't mean you are always right, and the leader accepts this. It is not a way of undermining the leader – it is actually important in Denmark that employees ask questions and give input".
"Danish people have a very informal working style and titles are not very important. Actually, Danes find it a little comical if people are too formal and call us 'Sir' or 'Mrs'. This is because Danes care a lot about equality. It doesn't matter if you are the boss or an employee – all are equal and are treated equally".
"In many countries, it may take time to have a decision approved from 'above', but in Denmark employees don't have to wait for instructions, and they can make decisions without involving leadership. Often, if there is a tight deadline, this is a way of being closer to the customer, speeding up the process, and making things happen".
"Danish people can joke about everything. This can be a challenge when communicating with people from other nationalities because our humour can be difficult to understand. But we usually use it to try to lighten the mood or loosen things up".
"Danes tend to have a very sarcastic or ironic sense of humour. We know that we have to be a little careful with this around people from other countries because they might take it too literally. But it's important not to take sarcasm personally because it's just the way we tease each other, and actually it's often meant in a positive way".
"The Danish culture can be a little laid back and laissez faire. We can joke and make sarcastic or cynical comments even when we are discussing serious business. We just don't like to take ourselves too seriously and will often make fun of ourselves when we tell jokes".
"The Danish way of communicating is often very direct – both in writing and when we speak. We usually don’t have time for polite exchanges or small talk. This may come across as being rude, but that's not the intention. It's just that Danes can be a little impatient and we are very solution-oriented. That's why we want to get straight to the point."
"Generally, Danes speak their mind and speak without a filter. We are very straightforward and honest, and we don’t cover things up – we say what we mean. A part of Danish culture is also that we are not afraid of confrontations or disagreement. You can say that it's part of our democratic values that we can be open and sometimes have heated discussions."
"Danes like it when people have concrete answers or solutions. We want an honest approach, so we want people to tell us if they can do the task or not – no beating around the bush. And if there are any difficulties that people need an opinion or guidance on, they can just ask and they will get help."
"Danes want to find the best solution to a problem and 'think outside the box'. In our opinion, we find the best solutions by having an open discussion where everyone can give input and ask questions. Danes are expected to present their own ideas and opinions, and we also expect others to question our point of view."
"Danish employees generally have a lot of influence in their daily job. We like to be autonomous, and we are very self-driven. That's why we also like to take responsibility and are empowered to make our own decisions."
"In Denmark it's definitely better to make a wrong decision than to make no decision at all. As long as we are honest and quick to speak up about the mistake so it can be fixed, there's no harm done. It's human to fail – you just have to learn from your mistakes and improve your work."
"The fact that we tend to outsource responsibility in Danish companies has to do with our level of trust. In Denmark, trust is a given – you have it from the beginning, so it's not something you earn. It's only something you can lose. Also a word is a word, so when an employee takes on a responsibility, the manager trusts that he/she can count on the employee's word."
Maybe you read the article and felt like protesting: This is not how all Danes feel about Danish workplace culture! I really think you're generalizing here.
We want to make it clear that we agree completely.
There are no doubt Danes – and non-Danes as well – who would describe Danish workplace culture in a completely different way.
And the quotes in the article are absolutely generalizations. But they are generalizations that are built on a solid foundation of Danish workplace participants' reflections about their own cultural background from hundreds of trainings and workshops over the past 13 years.
At C3, we believe that is it actually impossible to avoid generalizations, not just when talking about culture, but when talking about anything at all. What's important is to look at which generalizations we use and how we use them.
If you want to read more about why we believe this and also how we work with culture at C3, you can read our article here.
And now we'd really like to hear what you think:
Are you a Dane yourself – and do you agree with this description of Danish workplace culture?
Or do you work with Danish colleagues and collaborators – and do you recognize the things in the article? Join the conversation on LinkedIn. We look forward to reading your input!
Would you like to learn more about Danish workplace culture?
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