Company structures in Australia tend to be less driven by hierarchy, so distinctions between senior and managerial staff and the rest of the team can be less clear than in other countries. While managers will ultimately be responsible for decisions, it is common to seek the opinions of the rest of the team before making them. Teamwork is valued very highly, and staff members of all levels are regularly asked for input in meetings and strategy reviews. Respect is gained through contribution and achievement rather than rank or status, so it is important to treat everyone equally and encourage people to take the initiative.
Australians tend to communicate in a direct and informal manner, regardless of position. Although discussions are generally brief and matter of fact, Australians can be very receptive to new approaches and ideas. Managers appreciate directness, pragmatism and flexibility, and will expect their staff to challenge where necessary to achieve the common goal. Strong opinions are respected, even when they are not agreed with. Workers respond positively to respect and encouragement from their bosses and like to be managed in a fair and honest way, with the feeling that they are given space to work.
Australians are generally regarded as friendly and approachable, and these traits are evident in their informal approach to work. Colleagues are almost always on first-name terms and job titles are rarely used, although if in doubt it’s usually best to wait and see how you are introduced. Generally communication is informal and humour is appreciated, although you should remain polite within this relaxed tone.
Personal relationships are valued by Australian business people and introductions can get you a long way. They like to work by recommendation and referral, so making a good first impression is important, and giving out sound referrals can be a good way to build your own reputation. Networking is key and socialising outside work can be a great way to do this, but make sure you are self-aware in these environments as many Australians don’t appreciate one-upmanship.
Despite the tendency for informality, Australian business letters are written in a formal style. For emails, follow the same formality guides as you would face-to-face, starting formal until you establish a relationship. As a conversation builds you can always soften your tone, perhaps replacing the greeting ‘Dear’ with ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ and ‘Kind regards’ with ‘Take care’ or ‘Speak soon’.
Despite the more casual nature of Australian business dealings, the dress code remains relatively formal in many areas. Men typically wear a suit and tie, and women a suit or dress. However, the warm climate makes it important to strike a balance between appearance and comfort, and some businesses, particularly those in warmer areas, allow more casual attire. If in doubt, speak to your colleagues to find out what is acceptable.
In a business environment most Australians exchange quick but firm handshakes with everyone present at the beginning and end of a meeting, although it is perhaps less common for two women to shake hands. Often people are introduced by first names or progress to them very rapidly. Business cards may be exchanged but they are not essential and there is no formal process.
Punctuality is important as Australians like to get on with business and keep things brief. If you are running late, call to apologise so that your contacts can continue to use their time productively until you arrive.
Meetings in Australia are usually focused for efficiency and may have a clear structure or agenda. However, small talk before and after is commonplace. Sport is usually a good topic to begin with! The business discussions will be quite open and informal in tone, and tend to get straight to the point. Because of this, negotiations can proceed quite quickly. Presentations should be kept short, leaving plenty of time for questions. Avoid giving too much detail as Australians prefer to ask about the areas they are particularly interested in.
Australians dislike people trying to set themselves apart from the group, so always try to engage with people at a level they are comfortable with. Class distinctions are to be avoided, so try not to comment on accents or other things which might relate to social status. The past treatment of the aboriginal people can also be a taboo topic. Modern Australia considers itself proudly multicultural, with migrant workers, students and travellers from around the world all integrating into society with few difficulties.
Almost all business in Australia is conducted in English, but visitors should be aware that Australian English can be idiomatic and differs somewhat from the British and American forms. Sometimes referred to as ‘Strine’, Australian English can be quite colourful, mixing aboriginal words, rhyming slang and abbreviations. It is very common to hear Australians abbreviating names or words by adding ‘-ie’ or ‘-o’ after the first syllable – for example ‘Robbo’, ‘brekkie’ or ‘journo’.