British companies tend to develop managers to be generalists rather than specialists and managers are expected to be interested in, and take a view on, a wide number of topic areas.
Recent years have seen a change in working patterns with many people moving job and employer on a reasonably frequent basis.
British organisations have moved away from the traditional hierarchical models of the past towards a much flatter system. In the process, many layers of management have been removed.
Job descriptions in the UK are often very unclear and imprecise leaving a potential vacuum in ownership of task and decision.
Managers try to develop a close, friendly relationship with staff and like to be seen as part of the team rather than removed from the team.
The value of pure academic education is viewed with some suspicion. Respect is earned through experience rather than qualification. It is rare to see a professor or doctor on the senior management committee of a large UK company.
Managers find it difficult to articulate direct instructions and will often couch instructions in very diplomatic language.
There are a lot of meetings in the UK and they often fail to produce the desired decision.
The British do less empirical preparation for meetings than other nationalities – seeing the meeting as a forum for debating potential solutions.
Meetings are reasonably formally structured, roughly following a predetermined agenda and keeping more or less to time.
The British like to be part of a team and like the team to have a companionable atmosphere.
Members of a team are expected to take an holistic interest in the project, rather than confining themselves to their allocated role only.
The British place diplomacy firmly before directness and will try to avoid engendering negative emotions in meeting situations etc.
The British can misinterpret direct speech as rudeness, aggression and arrogance.
Humour is acceptable and expected in virtually all business situations. Humour is not seen as unprofessional, even when used in tense and difficult meetings.
Self-promotion is not appreciated in the UK. It is far better to self-deprecate. It is, of course, acceptable to be positive about your company and products.
Meetings will often begin with a good amount of seemingly meaningless small talk. This is seen as a good way to start the meeting in a harmonious manner.
Women play an increasingly prominent role in business life – especially in service industries.
Formal dress codes of dark blue and grey suits are still predominant although changes are starting to occur in this area.
Colleagues will virtually always use first names amongst themselves. It is considered very formal and distancing to use surnames.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Great Britain. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Great Britain and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: