Try Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) Technique

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By Leyman Publications

You’re likely based in the same building as your manager, but how often do you see him or her? OK, so you see him any time you look through the spotless glass walls of his office, but how often do you get the chance to sit down together and really talk? Once a week? Once a month? Less, maybe.

A manager like this can seem distant, unapproachable and even intimidating. And yet, it is possible to be a manager who is admired for being wise and knowledgeable, and one who is engaged and connected with the people around her. Which would you prefer to be?

If you build a wall around yourself as a manager, your team members won’t gain from your knowledge and you won’t gain from their experience. Worse still, you’ll be unable to spot and deal with problems before they become serious, and you’ll miss out on the key, tacit information that you need to make good decisions.

Connecting with your team is a major factor in success, and this article shows you how to keep in touch with what’s going on.

Introducing MBWA

One powerful way to connect with your team members is to get up from your desk and go talk to them, to work with them, to ask questions, and to help when needed. This practice is called Management by Wandering Around, or MBWA.

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.

William Hewlett and David Packard, founders of Hewlett Packard (HP), famously used this approach. Tom Peters included lessons learned from HP in his 1982 book, In Search of Excellence, and MBWA immediately became popular. Now, for example, Disney leaders work shifts with their resort teams, and the CEO of waste management firm Veolia regularly goes out with his staff when they collect trash.

What MBWA Can Achieve

MBWA can produce a huge range of results. It can, for example, help you to be more approachable . People are often reluctant to speak with their managers because they feel intimidated or they think that they won’t care. But when your team members see you as a person as well as a manager they’ll trust you and be more willing to share ideas and pain points with you

Frequent, natural and trusting communication can be infectious, and it encourages people to work together as a team. With better communication and an improved sense of what’s happening in your team, you’ll likely spot big problems before they happen, and you’ll be in a better position to coach your team to avoid them.

Business knowledge, commercial awareness and problem-solving opportunities can all take leaps forward when you better connect with your “front line.” You’ll improve your understanding of the functions, people and processes at work there, and you’ll boost people’s company and industry knowledge. Everyone is better equipped to perform their roles when they have the right information, and they are energized by an improved flow of ideas.

Morale will likely get a lift from MBWA, too. Casual exchanges and opportunities to be heard really do help people to feel more motivated, more inspired, and more connected. Furthermore, you’ll boost accountability and productivity, as any actions that you agree upon with your people will likely get done because you see one another regularly.

Dangers to Avoid

“Wandering around” may seem easy to do and harmless enough, but it’s important to do it right. Research has shown that simply being physically present with your people isn’t enough. It’s the post-walk actions that you take and the problems that you solve that will determine the success of your MBWA strategy. If you don’t strike the right balance, you can wind up doing more harm than good.

Don’t, for example, do MBWA just because you feel obliged to – this probably won’t work very well. You must truly want to get to know your staff and operations, and you have to commit to following up on people’s concerns and to seeking continuous improvement.

A big benefit of MBWA is that people can be open with you, but, if you “shut down” when you hear a negative comment or fail to follow up when you promise to do so, they might perceive you as defensive or as someone who doesn’t keep his word.

Gauging the level of trust within your environment is important because, if people don’t trust you, MBWA could make them think that you’re interfering or spying. It’s also important to consider your team members’ preferences and to tailor your approach to these. For example, one team member may be happy for you to offer suggestions for improvements within earshot of co-workers, but another might be embarrassed by it, or even get angry about it.

The article appeared on Mindtools website.

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