Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)

Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) is an unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization. Also called management by walking around.[1]

Management by Walking Around is a term coined by management guru Tom Peters. Apparently, from his study of successful companies and their practices, Tom Peters noticed that good managers tend to communicate a lot better with their team. And they do that in informal ways, like just hanging around in the office and chatting with them, rather than having formal interaction sessions in their cabins or boardrooms. Sam Walton, the founder of the largest company in the world, Walmart, was a great exponent of this practice. He believed in visiting as many of his stores as many times as possible and talking to frontline staff. The idea of this practice is to listen. You must also respond to ideas or problems voiced and take effective action about them.[2]

History of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)[3]
The origin of the term has been traced to executives at the company Hewlett-Packard, for management practices in the 1970s. However, the general concept of managers making spontaneous visits to employees in the workplace has been a common practice in some other companies, as well. Also, the management consultants Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman had used the term in their 1982 book In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America's Best-Run Companies. Historian Stephen B. Oates asserts that Abraham Lincoln invented the management style by informally inspecting the Union Army troops in the early part of the American Civil War.

Characteristics of an Effective Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)[4]
There are three characteristics that define and shape effective MBWA.

  • Authenticity: A personable, walking around style is simply not possible when it's forced or hurried. Remember, the goal is to foster relationships, and that's something that just can't be done if it is obvious that you are rushing to your next appointment. Your team members will pick up on any lack of sincerity, and that will make your team building efforts much more difficult.
  • Inclusiveness: Rather than just spending time with those who report directly to you, get out and visit with the front-line workers as well. Make sure that this becomes a regular process. Lack of consistency is likely to be seen as lack of commitment on your part. Management by walking around allows you to be perceived as actively interested in team members as people.
  • Engagement:Through engagement, you can gain valuable information as you encourage impromptu discussions with individual workers or small groups. Use your walking around time to ask important questions and observe your front-line team members in action. Provide good news and information as well, by sharing success stories and your personal vision. And, don't forget to offer your sincere thanks and appreciation for the meaningful contributions that they make.

MBWA, properly implemented, sends a positive message to those responsible for your organization's success--your team members. It demonstrates your interest in them as individuals and in the work they do. And, it also permits you to stay in touch with the pulse of your organization while conveying a positive example of leadership.

Benefits of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)[5]
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.

Disadvantages of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)[6]
There are a few disadvantages that MBWA has however.

  • The limits of geography: Firstly it is kinda limited by geography. It requires managers actually walk around, and there’s only so much ground an executive can cover in amongst their other tasks.
  • It’s limited to employees: When you can only cover so much distance it stands to reason that your reach will be limited. Therefore it’s understandable that executives limit their focus to employees and don’t walk around customers and other stakeholders that would nevertheless provide valuable insight.
  • It relies upon candid insights: A feature of MBWA is that it is random. The thinking goes that if employees expect a visit from you then it will not provide you with a true insight into what’s going on. Even so, with an executive stood over your shoulder, even a random visit is only going to provide so much insight. Many employees will refrain from providing honest insights if that means being critical of the boss.

See Also

Management by Exception
Management by Objectives
Crisis Management


  1. Definition of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) Directory
  2. What is Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)?
  3. History of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) Wikipedia
  4. Characteristics of an Effective Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) CHI
  5. Benefits of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA) Mind Tools
  6. Disadvantages of Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)Adi Gaskell

Further Reading

  • Managing By Wandering Around: MBWA: Thirty Years Later
  • Management by Walking Around (MBWA) – The Essential Guide Cleverism
  • The Effectiveness of Management-By-Walking Around: A Randomized Field Study