Team Objectives Over Individual Performance: The Law of Jante and Organizational Agility

Team Objectives Over Individual Performance: The Law of Jante and Organizational Agility

This article was updated on August 5, 2018.

Agility is important as you adapt to different management styles and cultures around the world. Valuing team objectives over individual performance is typical in some areas of the world, including places like Scandinavia. What works in one city and country, in terms of incentives tied to individual performance indicators, may not work in another, where team-based incentives may better engage employees.

The Law of Jante: A Collective Approach

In Scandinavia, the Law of Jante is a well-known phrase that places the interests and needs of the group above those of the individual, asserting that nobody is above the group, reports Quartz. When the Law of Jante is part of workplace culture, recognizing and rewarding individuals is at odds with the cultural focus on the group. Needless to say, the Jante Law assumes a management style that's far different from the individualistic approach to incentives that's valued in other countries. For this reason, organizations operating in Scandinavia would be better served by recognizing and rewarding team achievements over individual ones.

Different Management Styles for Different Countries

While inclusive and collective decision-making is a good idea anywhere, it's especially important in Scandinavia where organizations tend to have less hierarchy in their structure. For example, it wouldn't be uncommon for a machine operator to tell a manager what's working and what isn't, according to CrossCulture. And that same machine operator expects to be consulted on any decision that may impact their work. While top-down approaches to decision-making are frowned upon in Scandinavia, it's the norm for many U.S. businesses. Neither approach is right or wrong — both are appropriate for their own workplace cultures.

Making Decisions as a Group

In addition, managers in Scandinavia may act more like facilitators than anything else, constantly taking the pulse of the group and acting as catalysts for collective decision-making. It may take longer to make decisions in Scandinavia, but when the team moves, it moves as one. Top-down decision-making may take a shorter amount of time, but could result in team members offering only halfhearted levels of engagement in implementing a decision. The lack of a collective decision-making process could create problems down the road as managers are forced to get team members to buy in.

Cultural Agility Matters

Cross-cultural agility is the result of careful planning and investment. For example, having a flexible and global HCM system in place will allow you to easily adjust rewards in a way that's appropriate wherever you operate. So while you incentivize KPIs related to individual performance in the U.S., you'll have the capability to adjust those incentives in Scandinavia to reward teams. When it comes to recognition around the globe, one size does not fit all.

Along with recognition, you may also need to adapt performance management. In Scandinavia, where individuals will likely sacrifice for the team, you might do employees a disservice if you focus performance reviews on individual achievements alone. That kind of performance review could create employee frustration and head-scratching in Scandinavia, while it might be perfectly acceptable at your Illinois location.

Putting team objectives over individual performance may make perfect sense in some parts of the world, but be completely out of the ordinary in other areas. What matters is that you're ready to adapt and have made the investment in the systems necessary to give you the agility you need.