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British management style guide

Cross Cultural Management Guide for the U.K.


The insights offered below are for managers who want to learn more about the British management style and business culture.


It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have British employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation


Management in the United Kingdom

Equality is really important in British culture. Employees expect it and the law upholds it. Always treat all people with respect and be careful to not waste anyone's time. This means that you should arrive at meetings prepared and ready to discuss the matter at hand.

  • Expect your British colleagues to not be very emotive with their facial expressions and word choices.
  • Humour is an important part of the culture so keep in mind, the British are known for their dry wit.
  • In the UK, even though traditional organizations may be somewhat hierarchical, there is a sense that most people in the company have an important role to play and are valued for their input.
  • Therefore, managers lose no respect by consulting employees to gather background information and or by sharing the decision-making process.
  • More and more often, employees expect to be consulted on decisions that affect them and the greater good of the organization, and not doing so may have a negative impact on morale for those who want to feel responsible for the success of the organization.

The Role of a Manager

In British business culture, the manager is seen as being responsible for productivity. An important part of this entails being able to get the best out of all your team, whether that be using their skills in the most efficient way or motivating people when needed. 

  • Managers are not necessarily seen as role models; much of this is due to employees feeling a distance from management and the transient nature of modern employment.
  • British managers tend more towards generalisation than specialisation.
  • Good managers are seen as those who can help employees develop their skills and progress their careers.
  • Being supportive is an essential skill.
  • Employees expect to be consulted on decisions that affect them and the greater good of the organization.
  • British managers are generally diplomatic, casual, willing to compromise, and seeking to be fair.
  • Managers can also be ruthless when necessary..

Approach to Change

The United Kingdom is seen to have a medium tolerance for change and risk. It is important for innovations to have a track record or history noting the benefits if they are to be accepted and implemented.

  • The British are not afraid to experiment and take risks; however, this is carefully balanced with facts and logic.
  • Having said this, the fear of potential embarrassment that may accompany failure, can also bring about aversion to risk.
  • The need to thoroughly examine the potential negative implications is an important consideration.
  • British companies tend to lean more towards pragmatism rather than convention when weighing up implementing change.

Approach to Time and Priorities

The UK is a time-conscious culture - being on time is taken seriously.

  • Missing a deadline or being late is a sign of poor time management and inefficiency, and will shake people’s confidence in you.
  • People in such cultures tend to have their time highly scheduled, and it’s generally a good idea to provide and adhere to performance milestones.
  • Since Brits respect schedules and deadlines, it is not unusual for managers to expect people to work late in order to meet target deadlines.
  • Small talk is kept to a minimum, usually at the start and end of a meeting or interaction.
  • If you ever believe you are going to be late or miss a deadline, it's considered good practice to inform anyone impacted.

Decision Making

The management style in the United Kingdom is constantly undergoing a metamorphosis, so you will find a variety of styles. In old-school businesses, the managing directors are the overall decision-makers.

  • In other industries, managers strive for consensus and make a concerted attempt to get everyone's input before a decision is reached.
  • The manager may still make the ultimate decision, after consultation with the staff.
  • Teamwork and collaboration are becoming increasingly important in most organizations.
  • Brits believe the best ideas and solutions often come from having many stakeholders meet to discuss an issue.
  • They also prefer for the highest-ranking person to make the decision (and then perhaps clear it with someone at a higher level), so decision-making can be laborious.
  • British managers will praise employees, although not generally in public.
  • Subordinates expect their efforts to be recognized and rewarded.
  • Most British are suspicious if praise is excessive or undeserved.

Boss or Team Player?

In the U.K., employees collaborate well together as teams. Members are generally chosen to participate based on tangible skills or the knowledge base they bring and are equally welcome to contribute to any discussion that may arise.

  • They are encouraged to generate new ideas that may further the direction of the plan or spawn a new track entirely.
  • In successful, dynamic teams, all members are valued for their actual and potential contributions, and all are treated with equal respect.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Communication will be direct, polite and reserved.

  • Avoid confrontational behaviour or high-pressure tactics.
  • Avoid displays of emotion and do not argue on the basis of feelings.
  • Decision-making is slow and deliberate and so patience may be a necessary personal attribute.
  • Do not interrupt people as this is seen as the height of bad manners.
  • During negotiations people tend to focus on short-term results over long-term gains.
  • Requesting, collecting and sharing data is the norm and can take substantial time - due diligence is an important aspect of the business culture.
  • Using disruptive negotiation tactics can work as long as they are used in a non-confrontational way.

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