Walking Meetings by Emma Watts

I did something yesterday that I haven’t done in ages. Something I love doing and something that has so many benefits, I was kicking myself for not getting back to it sooner: a walking meeting.  Nothing complicated, nothing crazy, just walking and talking, at the same time.  In honour of Walk to School month (yes, it’s a thing) I thought I’d go ahead and blog about it.

There are so many benefits to walking meetings.  For starters, you’re walking!  Instead of sitting, like most of us, for an average of over 9 HOURS a day (!), you’re moving around, getting the blood flowing, moving muscles and ligaments that are no doubt even more bored than you are of sitting in front of a computer.  The health benefits are many and varied but I won’t go into them all here – you’ve got google for that.  I want to talk about the business benefits, since we’re talking about meetings (though on that note I think going for a walk is a highly underrated date suggestion).

We’ve probably all heard of the many famous thinkers who loved a good walk  – Churchill, Einstein, Thoreau.  Something about being outside and moving through a different environment gets your brain thinking in a different way.  Depending on your office environment, the air may literally have more oxygen.  Nilofer Merchant perhaps put it best in her TED talk where she says that ‘Fresh air leads to fresh thinking’.  New surroundings also lead to new perspectives – think about how you felt after your last vacation.  You probably thought about things in a new way after being in an entirely different environment for a few days.  A walking meeting is like a mini vacation for your brain.  And, in a walking meeting you’re forced to focus at least a little bit on your surroundings (if you don’t want to be run over anyway), meaning, paradoxically, that you’re often more present than if you were sitting in the same old meeting room that you see everyday.  Rather than seeing the great outdoors as a distraction, try seeing it as a great way to force your brain into being present instead of thinking about your upcoming holiday, an overdue bill, or who’s going to take the last stale biscuit.  

Another massive and underrated benefit of a walking meeting is the ability to resolve conflict.  When you’re sitting in a meeting room facing each other, it’s pretty confrontational.  Even if the meeting itself isn’t a hardcore negotiation, you’re literally ‘facing off’.  Every nervous tick, every power pose – it’s all right there.  How different does it feel to walk side by side – shoulder to shoulder – to find a solution together?  When you aren’t staring each other down, it’s a lot easier to respectfully disagree and, literally, find a way forward together.  

It’s also great for getting to know new members of your team.  There’s an immediate feeling of camaraderie and of being peers.  For starters, there’s no pressure of trying to find the right balance of eye contact between confident and creepy with your new boss or colleagues.  If walking meetings aren’t something you all do often, there’s also a sense of intimacy because you’re engaging in a different activity than you usually do, which means you’re opening up your working relationship to new ways of thinking.  

Doing this as a team – fostering that sense of camaraderie, connectedness, and intimacy, is something that many companies pay a lot of money for with team building workshops.  Say, for example, that you have a new team and you want to onboard them all at once and introduce them to your company values. Why not try a walking onboarding session, where teams have to find things in the surrounding environment that represent, for example, your company values, and explain to each other why one has chosen a tall glass building to represent ‘Transparency’ and another thinks it fits better with ‘Professionalism’?  

Or imagine now you’ve got a presentation to rehearse and you want to run it by a colleague.  Why not do like the ancient Greeks, but one better?  The ancient Greek orators famously imagined walking a mental path while giving speeches, associating each point they wanted to make with a physical place, so they could mentally walk through their presentation (ever heard someone say, ‘Let me walk you through it’?).  Why not actually go outside and rehearse each point of your presentation in a different place?  Literally, walk someone through it.  Then you’re engaging all of your senses as well as your brain – and if your colleagues have got feedback for you and you’ve got points to work on, you can discuss them non-confrontationally as you walk side by side to the next spot.  This also works for training a team to adopt a new process – each place you walk through can represent another step in the process.

Walking meetings’ benefits are many and varied, and best of all they’re free and right outside your door.  So no more excuses; it won’t take too long – standing up and walking out the door together takes less time than everyone faffing around to make a cup of tea before they sit down or ‘just finish this one quick email’ before heading into a meeting.  You won’t miss incredibly important and insightful comments or forget everyone’s actions – we all have phones and, if need be, you can head back 5 minutes early to jot down the key points. So what do you think?  Is this something your company could adopt?  

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