What Is Management by Walking Around (MBWA)? (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 24, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Over time, communication in the workplace has become highly digitalized, with many managers sending e-mails to employees rather than arranging physical meetings. As a manager, it's essential to build professional and sustainable relationships with employees by engaging in conversations. Understanding how to implement a management system that fosters physical interaction can help you better understand activities in the workplace. In this article, we discuss management by walking around (MBWA), outline its benefits, explain its disadvantages, and provide tips to help you effectively implement this system.

What is MBWA?

MBWA is a strategy where supervisors leave their designated stations and walk around the workplace to observe ongoing activities and employees. This management system requires an unstructured and random schedule to ensure that team members aren't expecting a visit or check-in at a particular time. The random schedule also helps managers get a clearer picture of activities in the workplace. It allows office leaders get new information and spontaneously engage with other employees.

In many organizations, managers typically remain in their offices, limiting the amount of information they receive from their team members. For example, managers traditionally get information from staff meetings, status reports, or when employees proactively come to them to discuss a new development. Implementing a management system that encourages spontaneous interactions and randomly assesses employees' tasks gives managers and leaders a more realistic view of the workplace. It also encourages them to make themselves available to team members in an informal manner, allowing employees to ask questions directly.

Related: How to Answer "What's Your Management Style?" in an Interview

Advantages of MBWA

Here are some advantages of implementing this management system in the workplace:

Improved communication

This style of management encourages you to engage with team members directly and build better relationships through open, natural, and informal communication. It also helps you improve your communication skills and learn new aspects of communication, such as understanding non-verbal cues and active listening. Improving your communication with other employees also helps create an open and positive work environment where everyone can freely share their ideas and opinions.

Related: A Guide to Effective Group Communication (With Tips)

More perspectives

You can get a new perspective on how the company operates by engaging and interacting with frontline employees while they perform their tasks. This allows you to get first-hand information from employees based on their personal experiences. It also helps you effectively assess the company's strengths and weaknesses. Many managers observe the company passively through reports and updates, which may create a confirmation bias. Interacting with those on the business floor can provide a more accurate representation of the company.

Faster problem solving

Physical interactions can help you solve issues quickly rather than going through time-consuming procedures and reading a thread of e-mails. For instance, suppose an employee experiences challenges with a piece of equipment while performing their duties. Managers who adopt this technique can quickly assess the extent of the problem and create effective solutions.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

More innovation

Creating accessible and spontaneous communication channels can help improve innovation and creativity in the workplace. For managers, it allows them to share their expertise and institutional knowledge to motivate employees to try new procedures and improve workflows. Similarly, it allows employees to share their ideas to improve operations and enhance productivity.

More opportunities for feedback

Getting feedback from employees is an excellent way to improve sub-standard practices and positively reinforce management requirements. This management system optimizes how employees provide feedback by making it an instant in-person interaction. For example, it allows employees to discuss issues with their team leaders when they make their office rounds rather than wait for an appropriate time to raise them.

Related: What Is Employee Feedback? (Definition and Examples)

Improved morale

Engaging with your team members and other employees makes them feel like a part of the company and helps generate engagement and improve morale. Listening to their experiences and perspectives demonstrates that you value them and care about their opinions. This can help you reduce turnover and retain valuable employees.

Stronger relationships

This management style is useful for learning more about your team members and building professional networks that may benefit you and the company. Having direct conversations in the workplace helps strengthen these relationships. It also lets you customize your discussions and coaching sessions to each employee to ensure they get the most out of these interactions. Building relationships also helps with talent discovery. For example, you may see that one of your team members has leadership potential and requires training to help them transition to a leadership role.

Greater productivity

Implementing this management technique helps improve productivity and organizational efficiency. It also allows you to identify areas that require improvement and allocate resources to fix them. This helps create a positive work environment for employees and company leaders.

Disadvantages of MBWA

Here are some drawbacks of implementing this management system in the workplace:

It may be time-consuming

This management system may be time-consuming and place a significant strain on managers who have many responsibilities to handle. There's also no guarantee for walking around to be rewarding due to its unplanned nature. It may reduce the time you could use to perform other duties. You can overcome this challenge by including it in your schedule. Rather than reducing time for other activities, make it an activity you perform on a particular day or at a particular time. You can also maintain flexibility by changing the days and times you walk around the office.

It can lead to micromanagement

It's easy for this management system to lead to micromanagement and make employees feel like you're watching them. In these situations, this management style loses its benefits and may negatively affect employees. You can overcome this challenge by being personable and giving employees the freedom to perform their tasks to the best of their ability. You can also engage in informal discussions to reduce the pressure of your presence, which may help employees feel more comfortable.

Related: What Is Micromanagement?

It may cause managers to over-emphasize opinions

This technique may lead to managers over-emphasizing a point of view about the team and its operations. These viewpoints may not accurately represent the wider workforce or the experiences of all team members. To ensure this system works effectively, it's essential to listen to all opinions and remain flexible to get a clear idea of the team.

It may lead to distractions

The success of this management system depends largely on its implementation and the manager's skill set. Informal conversations may distract employees and reduce the time they spend performing their duties. When implementing this system, it's essential for you to be aware of employees' deadlines. It's also important to have excellent interpersonal skills that are compatible with your team members. This helps you effectively coach, support, and empower them.

Tips for implementing MBWA effectively

Here are some tips to help you effectively implement this management system in the workplace:

Keep conversations appropriate

The conversations you have with your team members are essential to the success of this management system. It's necessary for you to find the right balance between your style of questioning and the questions you ask. This helps you encourage informative discussions without appearing accusatory or focusing on an employee's mistakes. Consider expanding your conversations beyond work and learning about your team members and what drives them. This can help you build rapport and relate to them.

Promote employee recognition

Recognition is essential to the success of a business. It's necessary to tell employees when they performed well to help reinforce the positive results you want from them. For example, when walking around, ensure you focus on the positives and acknowledge your team members publicly. This may have a positive effect on morale, motivation, and engagement. It also makes the system seem like a learning experience rather than an interrogation or inquisition.

Related: How to Show Recognition for Employees (With Examples)

Listen and observe

Although this management technique helps managers impart knowledge and guidance to their team members, it may be more beneficial to make it a learning experience. Rather than talking to employees, you can listen to them, observe how they operate, and learn about necessary changes that can help improve their productivity. Ensure you actively listen to them and give each conversation your undivided attention. This can also encourage your team members to trust you and provide honest answers to your questions.

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