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Toyota has built a reputation as one of the best-managed companies in the world. The Japanese automaker — which also makes some of the best forklifts in the industry — achieved this status partially through a management technique known as MBWA (pronounced MOB-wah), which is an acronym that stands for “Manage by Walking Around”.
Toyota and many other top companies encourage their managers and supervisors to periodically take unstructured walks throughout their facilities to talk with workers, check on equipment and procedures, and identifying hazards.
MBWA in the Workplace
MBWA is an effective management technique and supervisory tool because it breaks down the natural barriers that can form between leadership and line-level workers. It gets managers and supervisors out from behind their desks and into the “real world” of their production floors and keeps workers on their toes because they never know when their supervisor or manager might show up in their work area.
It can be used in manufacturing facilities, construction sites, warehouse operations, and anywhere else forklifts are used.
Encouraging managers and supervisors to interact more frequently with line-level workers can improve morale, promote a sense of organizational purpose, and lead to an improvement in total quality management.
It also encourages dialogue in the workplace, which can promote understanding and collaboration. Finally, it gives leadership a first-hand look at processes and operations, enabling them to make more informed decisions to promote growth and profitability.
An Old Technique for a New Era
Even though Toyota is said to have mastered the technique in its plants and facilities worldwide, MBWA is nothing new. It first came to the attention of American companies in the popular 1982 book “In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies” by Tom Peters an Robert H. Waterman.
Even Abraham Lincoln is credited with using the technique by informally interacting with Union troops during the US Civil War.
Although MBWA is an old, time-tested technique, it can still be a highly effective way to get more out of both your management team and line-level employees. Successful businesses today need to be more versatile, with the ability to react to real-world changes quickly and decisively.
Doing the same job in the same place over and over can cause complacency. It can cause supervisors to become lax, which can result in workers taking shortcuts to safety to save time and effort.
MBWA helps identify breakdowns in work processes and encourages a unified, collaborative approach to workplace safety.