Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) is a real thing that began at Hewlett-Packard in the 1970’s.
Wikipedia states it “involves managers wandering around, in an unstructured manner, through the workplace(s), at random, to check with employees, equipment, or on the status of ongoing work.”
Many tech leaders and managers do this. Heck, I did it at $BIG_COMPANY for 14 years, and still do it at my Tech Leader workshops.
I did it… until yesterday.
Yesterday, mid-way through the workshop, I realized the real reason I was doing it. And that I needed to change.
It hit me like a ton of bricks, so we talked about it as a group. That’s what we do at the workshops when we have an Ah-Ha! moment; we discuss it so everyone can learn.
See…I was doing it for my benefit, not for their benefit.
Old habits die hard
At $BIG_COMPANY most managers used this approach. It allowed us to check-in frequently, ensure people weren’t blocked, and discuss problems. It’s a fine approach sometimes.
But at my workshops, folks are giving pseudo-engineering tasks to complete, usually in less than an hour. During this hour, I don’t have much to do, so I wander from team to team asking “insightful” questions, giving time checks, and offering to answer questions.
You know… being helpful. Or maybe… inflicting help.
Who was I helping?
The participants knew where I was sitting, how to ask questions, and the time frames.
I was helping myself feel useful. Important. Necessary. Productive. Active.
They helped me realize this, by making snide comments, giving me blank stares, and appointing someone on the team to ‘run interference’ with me.
Finally, someone asked me directly, “Are you playing the part of a bad manager, or is this really you?”
I’m so thankful that the environment allowed for this kind of feedback. Most work environments don’t, and wouldn’t have allowed us to have a discussion about the topic.
That means I wouldn’t have seen why I was doing it, wouldn’t have options for doing something different, and would be stuck wondering why people were frustrated with me.
What activities in your management style get a surprising reaction?
What information might be left unsaid that you could use to improve?