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In Praise of MBWA (Management By Walking Around)

meetingI am, at heart, an analyst. There is nothing that would please me more than being able to shut my door and do some thinking and come up with plans and processes — then wait for the good results to come in. Of course, there is a major flaw: people. No, the people aren’t flawed (well, at least not fatally). The flaw is the assumption that people are “rational” the same way I am.

Other people did not “see” my obviously workable (and sometimes brilliant and elegant – ha!) approaches. It was clear to me, a young manager/analyst, that this inability was due to a lack of knowledge on their part — it coulnd’t be any lack on my part, could it?

Eventually, I developed enough bloody noses to get a message to the brain: as a manager of a talented team of people, it was my task not to simply command, but to lead.

“Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.”

— Dianne Feinstein

I also found out pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to find out what people want by sitting in my office. So, some MBWA seemed to be called for — it was not what I wanted to do. I also suspected that I wasn’t much good at it — I was right. First, I wasn’t used to it and the team wasn’t used to it, either. Hey, what would you think about someone, who used to stay pretty much shut away, who suddenly begins to try to engage? While there was no epiphany, I continued to walk around and, at some point, trust and significant communication happened. The team got used to the idea that I’d be out and about and I let go of a rigid “by the rules” approach. By walking around my message was, “I’m available,” and “If there’s anything you need, you don’t have to file a triplicate form.” It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.
In this virtual world, MBWA is often not physically possible. However, I’ve found some principles are still sound. For me, it’s about proactively establishing an informal avenue of communication separate from the “official.”

I’ll never be naturally comfortable at MBWA, but there’s been just too many benefits for me to stay shut up in my office again.

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About the Author

ALAN TSUDA founded and is a principal in two Silicon Valley based consulting firms; Altapoint Learning and ResultWorks. Mr. Tsuda is also an instructor in project management for the University of California Extension in Berkeley and Santa Cruz and is the master instructor for the instructional design program at UCSC Extension. Previously, Mr. Tsuda was a consultant and project manager for several firms designing and building large computerized systems for clients including the state of Maine, General Motors, General Electric, Doubleday Books, and Warner Communications. He managed product development and consulting services for a start-up software company that was spun-off from MIT and ran a systems integration division for a large computer products distributor. Mr. Tsuda earned an MBA from the Yale University School of Management where he tutored in finance and quantitative methods and was a teaching assistant in organizational behavior. alant@altapointlearning.com
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4 Responses to “In Praise of MBWA (Management By Walking Around)”

  1. I have always been a proponent of MBWA. I find that it opens up more lines of communication and produces strong team dynamics.The human factor is still needed in business.

  2. I’ve found it keeps those gams in shape too.
    MBWA keeps your team fit and if that doesn’t work
    you will at least have the leg strength to drop
    kick slackers.

  3. Here’s another aspect of MBWA – make it your primary status gathering technique. Don’t waste everyone’s time by using the ‘project status meeting’ to gather status. You will end up with 90% of the folks sitting around and checking their blackberries. Instead, go around to each of your team members to get status. Less efficient use of your time, but far better for the team as a whole. Then use your team meetings to THINK CRITICALLY, SOLVE PROBLEMS, and MITIGATE RISK. By all means, continue to call it a ‘status’ meeting if it makes people show up.

    -Jim

  4. I agree with the value of MBWA, however I don’t believe it replaces email and status documents. MBWA does not provide an electronic paper trail, which can be useful for proving commitments and status updates by people on a team. In addition, there are often times when people aren’t around and email is a great way to time shift simple discussions. In addition, one potential problem with relying too much on MBWA is that you may have a conversation with a team member and make a verbal agreement that affect the team, but then forget to make sure the rest of the team knows about it.

    In short, I believe MBWA is one effective tool, but it does not replace team meetings, status reporting documents. or email. All should be used.

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