Poland vs Scandinavia – cultural differences

flags_Poland and Scandinavia are separated by the Baltic Sea. It’s far and near in the same time depending on how one looks at it. It is also true in case of cultures. How distant we are really? Geert Hofstede’s study helps finding some answers. Here are the most important dimensions of national cultures that differ Poles and Scandinavians:

Power Distance

Power distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.

Poland is a hierarchical society. This means that people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat.

The following characterizes the Norwegians style: being independent, hierarchy for convenience only, equal rights exist, superiors are accessible, leader is a coach, management facilitates and empowers. Power is decentralized and managers count on the experience of their team members. Employees expect to be consulted. Control is disliked and attitude towards managers are informal and on first name basis. Communication is direct, participant and consensus orientated.

Femininity and Masculinity

Masculine society is driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field, whereas feminine society means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life.

Poland is a masculine society. In masculine countries people “live in order to work”, managers are expected to be decisive and assertive, the emphasis is on equity, competition and performance and conflicts are resolved by fighting them out.

Norway is the second most feminine society (after the Swedes). This means that the softer aspects of culture are valued and encouraged such as leveling with others, consensus, “independent” cooperation and sympathy for the underdog. Trying to be better than others is neither socially nor materially rewarded. Societal solidarity in life is important; work to live and do your best. Incentives such as free time and flexibility are favored. Interaction through dialog and “growing insight” is valued and self development along these terms encouraged. Focus is on well-being, status is not shown. An effective manager is a supportive one, and decision making is achieved through involvement.

Uncertainty avoidance

The Uncertainty avoidance is the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these.

Poland has a very high preference for avoiding uncertainty. Countries exhibiting high uncertainty avoidance maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. In these cultures there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules never seem to work) time is money, people have an inner urge to be busy and work hard, precision and punctuality are the norm, innovation may be resisted, security is an important element in individual motivation.

Norway is a fairly pragmatic culture in terms of uncertainty avoidance. This means that both generalists and experts are needed. There is focus on planning, and plans can be altered at short notice and improvisations made.  Emotions are not shown much in Norway, people are fairly relaxed and not adverse to taking risks.


Cultural differences are like tips of icebergs in that they are not very apparent on the first sight. Only after longer time period of close cooperation between representatives of different cultures one can realize more how different cultures might affect cooperation. It is important to be aware of the cultural differences in order to understand motivations behind actions of individuals with different backgrounds coming from different cultural contexts. It is especially important to understand cultural differences and their potential impact on company strategies or operational tactics. I recommend studying cultural differences for anyone involved in any subcontracting and/or nearshoring operations in order to better understand your partners and benefit from those differences.

Based on: http://geert-hofstede.com/

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