Traditionally when people think of managers they think of people in an office behind a closed door. There is the idea that this person is not approachable and they are separate from the office culture around them. By contrast the idea of “management by walking about” (a phrase coined by Tom Peters in his work “In Search of Excellence”) is that mangers actively walk around their environment and interact with their team. In this article, we are going to look at this method and how you can make sure you can manage by walking about in an effective way.
Learn about your team
Essentially if you know what your team does it becomes easier to manage. For example, a CEO of a waste management company went on the trucks in order to see how waste was disposed and how the team did it. Having this practical knowledge therefore made it easier to manage because you knew how their day to day routine worked.
There is also the added benefit of people feeling less intimidated by you as a manager. If you can physically see the people in charge then you are more likely to talk to them- if you have ideas you can share them and if you have a problem then you will be more confident that your concerns will be addressed.
It is not enough to simply be visible- if someone raises an issue with you when you are doing a walk around and you do not follow it up then they may feel you do not respond well to feedback or that you are not genuinely invested in this approach.
Furthermore, the approach is not “one size fits all”- some people prefer managers to be more hands off and allow them to get on with their work. Others may feel that an excessive presence of management in their working environment may be intimidating, feeling that they are being watched or observed as they work.
As with any management approach you need to gauge what is appropriate- this can either come from your own personal observations or from feedback (or more likely a combination of the two.)
The most effective way to manage in this way is to listen more than you talk- when you ask questions try to do so in a way that feels natural and try not to be too personal. It is not always easy but you can usually tell from body language or how someone responds whether or not they are comfortable with the questions you are asking.
Equally it is okay to say if you do not know the answer to a question and that you will follow up and find out, this is better than trying to bluff and being found out later on!
If this concept (MBWA as Tom Peters calls is) it is appropriate for your working environment and you can tailor it to your team it is potentially a way to make them feel more included and to make for a stronger bond between the management and the team working with them.