Management By Wandering Around (MBWA)
Staying in Touch with Your Team
Manage better by getting to know members of your team in their working environment.
Picture a boss in a lavish office with sumptuous
leather furniture and wood-paneled walls. He's sitting behind
a huge desk full of important work that needs his attention. He's
far too busy to be concerned with anything outside his office
walls: there's enough happening within!
This type of boss can be intimidating and unapproachable.
Yet, this is a common scenario in many organizations.
What type of boss would you like to be? Do you want to be remote
and bask in your own importance? Or do you want to know what's
happening out there "in the trenches"?
As a boss, you can be admired for your wisdom,
knowledge and expertise without being distant and disconnected.
If you build a wall around yourself, your team
may not gain from your experience, and this can undermine problem
solving and decision making. Being connected can be a major factor
for success: The more connected you are, the better you can understand
what motivates members of your team, analyze what's really going
on, and find solutions that meet the needs of your people and
To get connected and stay connected, you need
to walk around and talk to your team, work alongside them, ask
questions, and be there to help when needed. This practice has
been called Management By Wandering Around (or Management By Walking
About) – MBWA for short.
William Hewlett and David Packard, founders of Hewlett Packard
(HP), famously used this approach in their company. Tom Peters, in
his wildly successful 1982 book "In Search of Excellence,"
included lessons learned from HP and other companies that used a
similar style – and the term MBWA immediately became popular.
What MBWA Can Achieve
Since then, Management By Wandering Around has never really gone
out of fashion. If you use MBWA, you can increase the following:
- Approachability – When your staff sees you as a person and not
just a boss, they'll be more likely to tell you what's going on.
You'll get the chance to learn about issues before they become
- Trust – As your team gets
to know you better, they'll trust you more. You'll be naturally
inclined to share more information, and that will break down
barriers to communication.
- Business knowledge – Getting out and learning what's happening
on a daily basis can give you a better understanding of the
functions and processes around you.
- Accountability – When you interact daily with your team,
agreements you make with each other are much more likely to be
completed. Everyone is more motivated to follow through, because
you're seeing each other on a regular basis.
- Morale – People often feel better about their jobs and their
organization when they have opportunities to be heard. MBWA makes
those opportunities available.
- Productivity – Many creative ideas come from casual exchanges.
MBWA promotes casual discussions, so people will more likely feel
free to come to you with their ideas.
Despite its obvious benefits, use of MBWA has been hit-and-miss.
To be successful, it takes more than simply strolling through your
office, warehouse, or production facility. MBWA isn't a "walk in
the park": It's a determined and genuine effort to understand your
staff, what they do, and what you can do to make their work more
Don't just do MBWA because you feel it's an obligation – this
probably won't work very well. You have to truly want to get to
know your staff and operations, and you have to commit to
following up concerns and seeking continuous improvement.
How to Implement MBWA
These "wandering around" tips can help you get started:
- Relax – People will sense your genuineness and casualness, and
they'll respond accordingly. Stiff, formal conversation will
probably lead to equally rigid responses.
- Listen and observe more than you talk – Use active listening
with your staff. When people feel you're hearing them, you'll
probably seem more sincere. Read some pointers on active
- Ask for feedback and ideas – Let everyone know that you want
ideas to make things better. As the boss, people may think that
your opinions and ideas are "right." So hold back from saying what
you think – the goal is to see what others have to say.
- Wander around equally – Don't spend more time in one department
or section than another. And don't always talk to the same people,
or to people with certain ranks. You want to be approachable to
everyone, regardless of job title or position.
- Use the time for spontaneous recognition – If you see something
good, compliment the person. This is a perfect way to show your
- Hold meetings "out and about" – Instead of having all your
meetings in the boardroom or your office, meet with people in
their work areas and "on their turf." This can put them more at
ease. Communicate your expectations and needs so that everyone
knows what you value.
- Don't use this time to judge or critique – This can make people
nervous when you're around. If you see something that concerns
you, talk to the person later, in private.
- Answer questions openly and honestly – If you don't know an
answer, find out and then follow up. If you can't share something,
say so. Telling half-truths can break down trust.
- Communicate – Share company goals, philosophy, values, and
vision. Your "walk-arounds" are opportunities to mutually share
information that helps everyone understand and do their jobs
- Chat – Effective organizations aren't all about work, work,
work. Build relationships. Learn the names of your staff's kids.
Find out what they love to do or where they're going on vacation.
Joke, laugh, and have fun. You may be surprised at how great it
feels to relate on a personal level with the people in your
- Don't overdo it – Don't leave people feeling that you're always
looking over their shoulders! Wander around often enough to get a
good feel for what's going on, but not so often that your presence
feels like a mundane distraction.
Note: To implement MBWA
throughout your company, consider making it one element of
your managers' performance evaluations. What gets measured
gets done! If supervisors work far away from the staff they
manage, consider moving them, or giving them a second office
that's closer to where the work is done. If managers work
near their staff, they may be more approachable.
Management By Wandering Around can be an effective and practical way to keep up with what's happening within your team and your organization.
Make the effort to get out and build relationships with your staff. This can pay off significantly with the information you'll gather and the trust you'll build. A team spirit can naturally develop when you show a genuine interest in your people and their work. It's also a great way to keep the company's vision alive at all levels. It's easy, economical. and a whole lot of fun!
Apply This to Your Life
How can you use Management By Wandering
Around to help you achieve your leadership goals? Ask
yourself the following:
- When was the last time you walked
around your office or department? Why did you walk around?
Were you looking for things that people were doing poorly or
doing well? Were you using it as an opportunity to criticize
- Where do you usually hold your meetings? If you use your
office or your boardroom, do you think your staff finds that
- Do you know the first and last names of all your team
members? This is a must. Better yet, you should learn the
names of their spouses and kids.
- Do you know more about a small group of your staff vs. all
staff, or more about one department vs. others? Why have you
been focusing your attention on just those people? Do you
think the rest of the staff sees this as favoritism?
- Do colleagues come to you with ideas? Think about the
creativity and innovation you could tap into if they did.
Many of these tips were suggested by
Mind Tools Club members, who discussed MBWA in the
Career Cafe forum. So thanks again to Shackledog, lulu,
weeze, and chepkemoi!
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