In theory: Management By Walking About

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak

Don't guffaw, but did you know that there's a management theory called Management By Walking About? It doesn't take the best Oxbridge business brain to work out what this means, but you should know that this is something that is taken very seriously in management circles.

It refers to a style of management that involves a manager finding time each day to walk through their department and be available for casual discussions with staff.

Practitioners also hang around the water cooler, slap your back at the coffee vending machine or run after you down the corridor wanting a 'catch-up'. The idea of the theory is that managers need to spend as much as time as they can on the front line, talking to their teams to find out their problems and concerns and dealing with them on the spot. It means you find out what's bugging your team before it builds into a huge problem, and helps you to identify issues with their work that can be dealt with before they become too damaging.

Management thinker W Edwards Deming hinted at the benefits of MBWA, but it was Tom Peters, in his book A Passion for Excellence, who explicitly identified MBWA as an excellent management trait.

MBWA is not for all offices, particularly those where a culture of suspicion abounds. Many people will regard managers who go out and about as creeps or boardroom spies, or simply nuisances that are best got rid of. Remember The Office's David Brent always interfering and eavesdropping on others' conversations? With your boss hovering over your desk, it can make you feel that you aren't trusted. It can also bring back that classroom feeling of the teacher pacing past you and peering over your shoulder to see if you were working, not just doodling. Be careful not to be the hated teacher or, even worse, the charity manager who looks like they've nothing to do apart from snoop on others.

 - Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today 

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