Icelanders as ancestors of Vikings may be perceived as strong, stubborn and patriarchal whereas Vikings were surprisingly egalitarian. They founded one of the world’s early democracies when settling in Iceland. Always everyone’s opinion was equal.

Early start

Icelandic society is a young one – 2/3 of Icelanders (211K) are in working age (15-64 years) as in Iceland there’s a cultural drive to start your family early. Thus a lot of couples aged between 18-19 do have a child and start a family. What’s more an average Icelandic family consists of 6 people (4 kids). Most of Icelanders have two jobs at least or work at side projects. Taking into account their number (320 thousand) versus needs, which constantly rise annually especially with all the tourists, it’s a good approach. It’s even more so during summer period as due to insufficient number of working people they employ children even aged 13 to help them fill demand. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to have grandparents still working and grandchildren already working in same place (and the closest family in average consists of 26 members). They learn hard work from early years but also the rule that everyone is equal.

The Icelandic way of management

Nowadays when we enter Icelandic company it’s sometimes difficult to spot the boss. Little hierarchy and informality in relations still prevails. What’s more it’s OK to disagree with the boss openly even in front of others.

Great emphasis is also placed on initiative and taking responsibility by employees. Thus, people are more likely to move to action without getting the boss’s okay. It’s OK to email or call people several levels below or above you. During meetings with a client or supplier, there is less focus on matching hierarchical levels therefore you’ll be seated or spoken to in no specific order.

What do they value

Icelander’s value punctuality and good organisation but at the same time give a lot of space for individual ideas and ways to achieve given outcome. They prefer to focus on one task at a time unless someone is skilled in multitasking but without significant drop in performance. Trust is built through business-related activities – by doing consistently good work and being reliable. But it’s during informal meetings, lunch or dinners that they are open to know you better and to hear out your ideas and proposals. Again, Icelanders put a great emphasis on personal contacts. Also in the business world they are very attached to the personal dimension of it. Considering the size of the Icelandic business community and its close network of personal contacts it is hardly surprising that Icelandic business leaders tend to value personal relations highly.

Icelandic managers

Icelandic managers are seen as straightforward, friendly, reliable, quick to solve problems and positive. Also they don’t mind being asked questions and are ready to discuss everything.

Icelanders are known for focusing on finding solution than dwelling on problems. (Some even say that they don’t have problems only challenges). It’s sometimes achieved by making quick decisions without debating everything down to the core. Also very often Icelandic managers act on their gut feeling rather than careful planning. Nevertheless, all that doesn’t mean that they are stubborn. If they sense that their decisions were erroneous or need to be modified for some reason they are willing to change their minds. They are always open for debate and ideas sharing with employees. Sometimes it’s just more efficient to make quick decision by ignoring compromises.

Women are managers almost as often as men in various industries and fields.

gender equality
Source: World Economic Forum

No strategy, just do it

Icelandic way of doing business can be described by using nike’s slogan: “just do it”. Meaning to set off and let things take their course without a strong strategy. They’re saying “we’ll manage, as usual”. And if not, they can try something else, it’s not the end of the world. It can be said that, an Icelandic model of running a business is 10% planning, 80% operation and 10% correcting mistakes (as contrasted with popular 80% planning and 20% operation). This approach is accompanied by a high error margin and willingness to accept the cost of correcting mistakes but at the same time is a quick one.

If you feel restrained by slow decision making resulting from complex hierarchy rules in you company or you’re tired of constantly calling everyone Mr and Mrs maybe Icelandic way of management will suit you more.