MBWA – Management by wandering around!

In a recent DiA program celebration + evaluation session (session 7), a DiA alumni recently commented that early in the program, they realised that they weren’t paying enough attention to some of the needs of people in their team. They said ‘my people wanted to see me more on the floor, but it is not my natural instinct to ‘wander without purpose’, but this is what they want; they want me to be more available’. This leader listened, and made some changes that her team really valued, and she found some unexpected benefits along the way!

Often leaders see this ‘wandering’ as ‘hovering’ or an ‘intrusion’, or dare I say it, a ‘waste of time’, but after reframing this ‘wandering’ in their mind, they have seen that this ‘wandering’ can actually become ‘wandering WITH purpose’.  By making more of an effort to get out of their office or come down to a different floor, they are more available and visible to their teams, and as a result, leaders gain a much stronger sense what is happening (and what isn’t!), and stronger sense of what their people need.

Funnily enough, this term ‘wandering’ is actually a formal term – often called MBWA or ‘management by wandering around’. A recent ‘MindTools’ post happened across my desk in the same week as this discussion, and it shared that “MBWA might imply an aimless meander around the office, but it’s a deliberate and genuine strategy for staying abreast of people’s work, interests and ideas. It requires a range of skills, including active listening, observation, recognition, and appraisal. MBWA also brings participation, spontaneity and informality to the idea of open-door management. It takes managers into their teams’ workplaces to engage with the people and processes that keep companies running, to listen to ideas, to collect information, and to resolve problems.”

So this MWBA is actually REAL WORK! Real, valuable and necessary work that helps leaders to

  • connect with their team,
  • improve relationships,
  • improve communication flow (both ways),
  • pick up on what support individuals need,
  • improve the morale (and vibe) within a team,
  • get in touch with those closer to the end customer / stakeholder,
  • trust their team members (and facilitate more autonomy – and ultimately higher levels of accountability)

But for it to work, it is important that you :

  • believe in the value of the practice – if you don’t, it won’t seem authentic and it may become an adhoc activity that makes your team suspicious!
  • actually following through on the issues that are brought to your attention – you can build trust by working on these relationships but you can ‘kill’ it quickly by not following through

So when ‘wandering’ around, consider these good habits

  • stop and really listen – this is your chance to hear and observe
  • don’t just stop to talk to the ‘usual suspects’ – be inclusive – make sure you see everyone
  • when you hear about good things, mention them! People deserve to know they are having a positive impact
  • help connect the dots – ie use the opportunity to share your vision and how people fit into that
  • embrace the ‘chat’ – it helps build trust and connection
  • take some notes when you are back at your desk – and see what actions / learnings you need to be mindful of