A meeting among walkers

Business meetings are a necessary communication tool for most businesses. But forcing meeting participants to sit around a conference table or desk at an office to conduct the meeting is not mandatory.

Meetings can occur outside and during walks. Walking meeting, especially those outside of the office, even in the colder months, can fuel new insights and creativity.

First, walking removes some common barriers to effective meetings. Distractions like cell phones, colleagues and perceived emergencies disappear when you are walking. The more you take to walking meetings, the less you will take with you. I worked with someone who took her computer and purse on the first walk, but not on subsequent half-mile journeys.

The concern that someone won’t be keeping notes is quickly forgotten when participants recognize that the act of exercising while meeting ignites different neurons. Those neurons, for whatever reason, tend to retain more of the meeting minutes. As a failsafe I have gotten into the habit of scribbling down a quick list of action items after a walking meeting concludes. I encourage those who walk with me to do the same. I have also followed a brisk walking meeting with a quick standing meeting in the office, where action items are agreed to and documented on paper.

Second, walking meetings can create the important sense of a shared experience. People tend to want to feel akin to the people they are going to share their most creative thoughts with. By experiencing what occurs on a walk, even if it’s the mundane, you create a shared experience, the first step toward trust and respect.

Third, walking meetings help ensure you and your employees get exercise. Whether it a brisk walk to the coffee shop a mile away or a focused path around the office building a few times, walking meetings get the heart pumping. Science has proven that a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t just increase our chances of disease or illness, but it reduces our ability to think.

Walking can combat the afternoon slump people often feel, and even in its briefest form can help those who are reluctant to exercise see how easy it is to start. The faster the walk, the better. But any walking is better than sitting.

A pumping heart often spurs new ideas. Moving daily or weekly meetings to outdoors during a walk opens your mind and body to new experiences. A bright red cardinal crossing above you or the contrails of a passing jet – you see different things. Over the course of a year, trees will produce and drop leaves; other common scenery will come and go; the view will change day to day. These changes open us to new possibilities, and those possibilities manifest themselves in new solutions to problems.

When I led employees on walks around our building, I noticed a few other benefits.

Employees spoke more openly and honestly. Perhaps it was the fact that at least some of their attention had to be focused on the act of walking. Maybe it was a sense that the focus had shifted away from them. Eye contact often gets abandoned as we focus on where we are going. Whatever the reason employees tended to become more honest and collaborative.

They didn’t hem and haw. They blurted things out. All kinds of things. Things that came as a surprise to me because they would never be uttered in the confinement of an office space. And because I was walking, I could avoid making a reaction, which further spurred them.

My colleagues weren’t more talkative. They were just less restrained because they weren’t “in the office.”

I have used this “open air, open mind” strategy to help some of my coaching clients open up. In one case, the client felt bad about himself and his future prospects. I suggested that we walk about a mile to a Starbucks on one of the hottest days of the year. As we became soaked in sweat, he divulged things he had never shared. He opened up to me. I don’t think he knew it was happening. He just walked and talked. The microscope he had felt was no longer on him. He felt safe because he was just talking and walking, two things we do all the time.

If you are looking for a breakthrough, then a walking meeting might be the ticket.

Bob Graham is CEO of Breakthrough Solutions, where he coaches, trains and speaks about a proprietary blend of skills that enable business leaders to drive growth and productivity. For more information, visit https://breakthroughsolutions.co