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Walk around the office to make people more comfortable around you. Say hello to people, participate in their discussions, and listen for ways you can better connect with team members. This play improves your leadership skills, team rapport, and your team’s work environment.
Humanize yourself with team members that don’t typically have a reason to speak with you. Listen to what is going well (and poorly) that you may not otherwise hear about. Make yourself more physically present around the office.
Why We Walk Around the Office
There are a lot of ways walking around the office can be beneficial for a leader. First of all, it helps make you seem approachable. If you are known for occasionally dropping in to talk to people without an agenda, it makes it easier for team members to seek you out when they have something to discuss. Engaging people in their own space can be less intimidating than calling them into the boss’s office.
Secondly, this action can help increase accountability. While the goal of this activity is not to surprise people and catch them taking a break (nor are we suggesting that is something worthwhile), it does demonstrate that you care about what’s going on with the team. Any time you ask about a team’s metrics or progress, you reinforce the importance of those metrics.
Additionally, regularly walking around the office gives you the ability to see and hear what’s going on with the team even without necessarily engaging them directly. If you notice someone muttering under their breath or getting frustrated, you might ask her if the new tool the team is using is working out. If everybody has on headphones, and the new person sitting amidst them looks lost, you might check with his mentor to make sure he’s getting the help he needs. It can be a great way to pick up on patterns of interaction within your team, such as who works well together and who doesn’t.
How to Walk Around the Office
Your office layout may determine how best to execute this action: in a private or semi-private layout, it may be easiest to just stop in the doorway of a few offices and chat for a few minutes. In an open layout, grab a chair so you can sit and chat with folks nearby. This can be a great action to combine with Ask “How’s It Going?”
In addition to speaking directly to team members, spend time listening too. Do not eavesdrop, but make your presence known without interrupting discussions. A simple hand-wave or nod when people see you will let them know you’re listening and want people to continue with the current topic.
After walking around the office regularly for a few weeks, you will be perceived as a more attentive and receptive leader.
The first few times you show up in an unexpected area of the office—especially when walking up to an ongoing conversation—people will probably look your way and stop speaking. They do not yet know what to expect. Your goal is to appear around people regularly enough that they become more comfortable with your presence. Over time, you’ll see that conversations continue despite the sudden appearance of a rogue manager.
Similarly, in interactions where you walk up to people and ask them how their day is going, you may initially be met with guarded or short responses. Over time this will change. To expedite this change, remind people you’re just there to chat by talking about personal interests, asking about their interests, or starting a discussion not directly tied to their current work. You can also ask people if they’ve worked on anything interesting lately.
Once people become more comfortable with you showing up around common areas, they will develop a stronger rapport with you. They may even seek you out to start conversations, but at a minimum will be more comfortable discussing their work and personal interests around you. This is a humanizing tactic that gives you opportunities to talk to team members about what they care about. You may also discover, through natural conversation, things that you can do to improve team members’ work lives. Oftentimes employees will feel that their managers know pain points when they don’t: being more present and available to listen will give employees opportunities to express those pain points so you can actually address them.
Demonstrating your availability and openness to discussion will grant you insight into employee concerns. This gives you opportunities to help people in unexpected ways, by giving them support they need, answering questions that may otherwise go unasked, or offering ideas to help them with professional problems you have dealt with in the past.
Take regular, brief breaks to get up from your desk and walk around busy areas in your office. Kitchens, lounges, bullpens, and meeting rooms with open doors are popular areas for people to gather and converse. Once an hour or so, take a brief stroll to another area and say hello to people whenever you cross paths.
If groups of people pause or hesitate to speak when they realize that you’re nearby, either wave them on to continue talking or ask them how their day is going.