How do you describe your culture at work? If you are working in the UK or regularly working with British teams, how would you describe British business culture?
Even in our international, virtually connected world, the culture we have grown up in, or spent most time in, has a significant impact on our view of the world. It influences our beliefs, values, attitudes and ultimately interactions with others.
It is important to understand these cultural dynamics if we want to communicate effectively, overcome challenges when working together, and build connection and rapport, especially if we never actually meet the people we work with.
Having said this, we must be mindful that everybody is an individual and there are other types of cultural influences, such as regional, sector, company or team cultures, which we may need to take into account.
However, if we do not understand national cultural dynamics, then we assume people are looking at the world the same way as we do. We observe behaviour, which is just the tip of the iceberg. We may not understand somebody’s true underlying intentions, which come from differing beliefs and values, and misjudge what it really going on.
So today I am sharing my analysis of the key British business cultural dynamics for you to be aware of, using the culture map framework dimensions of Erin Meyer, and adding my own top tips for working effectively with British teams.
- Communication style: In comparison with other European countries, British people are more likely to communicate in clear, simple, short messages, using repetition to be clear. Yet, American and Australian people may experience British people as more indirect in their communication style and feel they need to read between the lines about what is not being said.
- Evaluating (feedback style): the British do not like strongly expressed direct negative feedback, but there are other cultures which have a stronger dynamic for indirect negative feedback, e.g. China or Thailand. This means that you need to approach negative feedback softly and diplomatically to maintain the connection and not risk the personal relationship, usually starting with positive messages, before sharing negative feedback. Nevertheless, be aware that this is a dimension which may vary strongly between business sectors and company cultures, e.g. direct negative feedback can be experienced in British-based international finance businesses.
- Leading: the UK can feel quite hierarchical compared to other English-speaking countries, like the US or Australia, but sits in the middle when considering other national cultures. British managers would usually consider they are not hierarchical, aiming to be approachable and visible, with an informal and flexible work style, smart casual dress code and an emphasis on team socialising. Although senior managers would usually still have their own office, sitting separately from the team.
- Deciding: British managers like to be open and transparent and consult their team on decisions to help their direct reports feel included and listened to. Still on critical issues the final decision may still be taken by the senior manager.
- Trusting: like other English speaking-countries the UK has an emphasis on getting the task done, taking action and judging success by performance. However, this trend is not as strong in the UK as in the US, and I think this is best illustrated by the British focus on small talk rituals and socialising in the office and the pub as a way to get to know colleagues and build relationships.
- Disagreeing (confrontation style): most people would say the British will do anything to avoid confrontation, which has some truth. Open displays of strong emotion, particularly negative emotion, are not considered professional and can damage the relationship because the British feel criticising somebody’s idea is like criticising them personally. You may find British people use softening language, the word ‘sorry’ and humour to reduce tension when people disagree. Having said that, the UK is not as strong on this dimension as other countries which will do everything to maintain harmony and save face for individuals, e.g. Japan.
- Scheduling (relationship to time): the British have a tendency to focus on deadlines, carrying out projects in sequence, aiming to meet deadlines and be on time (meetings usually start promptly but being up to 5 minutes late is acceptable). Yet there is some flexibility in the work plan and the opportunity to change priorities, if discussed and agreed on by the team.
- Persuading (how to influence): British people prefer to persuade through focusing on the practical application of information, so explaining the recommendation first, before providing support data, examples or rationale. Theoretical arguments or debate are not valued in a business context.
So I hope this introduction to the key cultural dynamics in British business culture has been helpful.
Which insights were in line with what you already expected and knew?
Which insights are surprising or new to you?
How might this explain situations you have experienced?
What are you now aware that you need to focus on?
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