I’ve recently been fortunate enough to travel to 78 degrees north to the amazing islands of Svalbard, the most Northerly inhabited place in the world. A strange place of extreme temperatures, polar bears, glacier and icebergs, the Norwegian friends who I accompanied on the trip proudly showed off this amazing corner of the world. Late one evening, over a beer or two, we were discussing the cultural differences between Brits, Finns and Norwegians. Whilst I was extolling the virtues of the Nordic ethos around consensus and social responsibility, my friends countered saying that because of a culture of filling businesses with too many “A4-menneske“, Norway is loosing it’s edge.
So what exactly is “A4-menneske“? It’s literally refers to the European paper size, A4. It is the most commonly found and generic paper size. It’s quite a derogatory reference to people – it’s the man with a wife, 2 kids, a dog, and a Volvo station wagon. So “A4-menneske“, or in English, “A4-type” is a boring, standardised person, who follows all the rules and norms, and avoids challenging convention. For Norwegians, it’s quite negative for most, and few would characterise themselves as “A4-types“. But my friends insist that many managers will always choose to employ “A4-types“, because of the perception that they are easier to manage, less likely to question and ultimately likely to give a manager a quiet life.
I mulled this over during the rest of the trip. Is it so bad to have a team of “A4-types“? In days gone by, employees left education with the goal of finding a job for life. For many, their career involved developing a fixed set of skills to deliver. It could be argued that in such a working world, focus on doing the same, but better was a good thing. It may involve greater responsibility or a promotion, but fundamentally, in the past, conforming was strongly encouraged.
In today’s working environment, the pace of change and the drive from technology necessitates a more flexible approach to your career. It’s important (and more exciting) to grow your skills and diversify your abilities throughout your career – and have an open mindset to embrace this reality. For some, it may feel unnerving, but it’s important.
That said, if you only employ those who embrace perpetual change, you can at times erode the solid foundations that you built your business on. It can also lead to rapid churn of people and a leaching of the skills that you need to run your business.
Ultimately, whether as a manager you struggle to deal with challenges and change, or you become easily bored with order and structure, having a decent mix of personality types in your team is best. It allows you to cope with both ends of the business spectrum, and flex and adapt to different cycles within your business. In addition, by mixing up the skills and styles in your team, you are more likely to nurture cross pollination of skills and competencies. The rest is up to you to shine as a manager and a leader to get the best out of your people whilst allowing them to grow and develop.
So in conclusions, whilst having too many “A4-types” in your team is not a good idea, you really don’t want any one trait to dominate – encourage diversity to deliver better!