Most companies experience problems in the workplace. They might range from a lack of employee engagement, internal communication issues, and a stifling of creativity, just to name a few. Sweden, especially, is known for valuing consensus and jantelagen, or the ‘Law of Jante’, which many people coming from outside of Scandinavia have a difficult time adapting to. It often feels like the only thing that comes out of meetings is a plan to organise the next meeting. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

At Impact Hub Stockholm, we do our best to foster a flat hierarchy of self-managed volunteers. Of course, we still have people who make up our Core Team who make decisions about the vision of the organisation and how we go about achieving that vision. As a hub of social entrepreneurs, it’s always in our sights that people are a core tenet of our organisation’s sustainability.

Our team made the decision long ago to include volunteers and interns in our process. While difficult sometimes, especially with the high turnover rate and the investment that goes into each person, it gives us the platform to train and educate English-speakers in Stockholm to find their path. This might sound a bit fluffy, but the opportunities that we provide are invaluable to the people who come onboard. One of our recent Community Hosts went on to work with CSR, while another intern found her place as Assistant Marketing Manager with a local food tech startup with strong social values.

Approximately half of the unemployed people residing in Sweden are non-Swedish speakers. Being one of the few organisations with English as our working language, we want our interns and volunteers to leave us with bigger networks and greater opportunities. Here’s where self-managing comes in.

Instead of giving people rigid guidelines on what to do and how they should do it, as the Community Manager, I encourage every person in our team of volunteers to come up with their own ideas and to try new things. People are encouraged to collaborate and learn from the other teams, and to apply their own experiences and knowledge to run their own projects from start to finish.

Like any startup, the learning process is often an experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes, what seems like a good idea, might end up being a complete failure; while something totally radical might perform the best. By giving people the responsibility and freedom to try new things without overwhelming bureaucracy, our volunteers become more creative and engaged.

Admittedly, we still have our own internal issues. But by changing the fundamental way that we organised ourselves, we were also able to increase both productivity and accountability. Self-management is not a perfect tool in any sense, but it remains a part of our organisation as a reminder of what we can achieve when we put our people first instead of our egos.

Cathy Xiao Chen

Cathy Xiao Chen

Community Manager

Cathy Xiao Chen is the Space & Community Manager at Impact Hub Stockholm. She co-organises #SthlmFoodMovement and consults on Food Sustainability.