Meeting on the Move
Meetings are a fact of business life. We meet to discuss new initiatives, brainstorm, get feedback on an idea, or solve a problem. Face-to-face contact is important for forming good relationships with colleagues, and for gathering input from a variety of sources. There are just two problems.
Firstly, traditional meetings are not good for our health. Think about it for a minute – they invariably involve sitting around a table, indoors and under artificial lights, often adding to the time that we already spend sitting at our desks, scrolling through emails, answering calls, and writing reports.
A 2016 report from health organization the American Heart Association suggested that sedentary behavior can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and can also contribute to higher-than-average rates of mortality. Meanwhile, a 2015 global meta-analysis of 47 articles and reports indicated a link between sedentary time and poor health.
Secondly, traditional boardroom-style meetings may not always be the most effective way of discussing an issue or looking for a solution. This is because attendees can become tired if they go on too long, can easily disengage from what's being said, or leave, thinking that very little has been decided or achieved.
Organizations are now using standing meetings and standing desks to get people on their feet, but some are now taking the idea a step further and holding meetings on the move.
This is building on a concept that has been known for centuries – Aristotle, for example, was said to walk as he taught his students. As a manager, you could be getting more out of your team and doing its members a huge health favor by holding walking meetings.
This article will help you to decide when it's appropriate to have a walking meeting, how to get one started, and how to run one effectively.
What's a Walking Meeting?
A walking meeting is exactly what it sounds like: a meeting that takes place while its participants are walking around.
It could involve just a few minutes' "walk and talk" with a colleague en route to another part of the building. Or, it could be a more organized 20-minute stride around the park while you and two or three colleagues brainstorm ideas or thrash out a problem.
The Benefits of Walk and Talk
To stay healthy, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention, via its Health Promotion Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intense activity (such as brisk walking or playing doubles tennis) each week. So, by holding a 30-minute walking meeting every day, you would be helping your people to achieve this, giving them long-term health benefits.
Mental health and wellbeing can be improved too, with studies showing that regular exercise can help to reduce anxiety and build up your tolerance for stress. The combination of fresh air, daylight and walking is a great stress reliever, and exposure to daylight helps your body to produce beneficial chemicals, such as serotonin and vitamin D. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) will also thank you for the opportunity to get some natural light.
Furthermore, research by the American Psychological Association shows that walking enhances people's creativity and productivity. According to neuroscientists, walking increases blood flow to the brain, which helps people to express ideas more fluently.
Formalities tend to be dropped when you take people out of the office. This allows them to think more freely and to develop stronger relationships with one another, and with you. And, by taking yourself away from the hustle and bustle of the workplace, your meeting has less chance of being disturbed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one third of adults in the U.S. are obese. This can be a contributory factor for such conditions as heart disease, stroke, muscle and joint problems, depression, and Type 2 diabetes.
Things to Consider When Arranging a Walking Meeting
To hold a walking meeting, you won't need any special equipment beyond a decent pair of shoes and clothing suitable for the weather. But you will need a safe space and participants who are able and willing to cover the distance.
You'll also need to consider the resources that you'll require, such as refreshments, pens and paper, and how confidential the meeting will be – who needs to be there, who might be in the vicinity of your walk, and who might overhear what you're saying.
Other considerations include noise that might make it harder for attendees to communicate (chatter in a busy corridor, for example) and how you will chair the meeting effectively outside the more formal setting of a meeting room.
It is, therefore, crucial that you think about the purpose of your meeting carefully before adopting this approach. For example, could a quick standing meeting be carried out in a more formal setting, with a small agenda and ideas submitted via email beforehand?
If you're the first in your organization to try walking meetings, you may have some initial resistance. So, start with a small group of people who you know will enjoy it. You could treat them to a coffee during your first one, just to get the ball rolling.
Walking meetings are best for exploring possible solutions to a problem, brainstorming or conferring on decisions. If you know that you're going to need a whiteboard or other equipment, it might be better to "walk and talk" to promote discussion and then return to the boardroom to draw everything up together.
A word of warning at this point: please remember that, if you can't include remote workers, you'll not only be missing out on their contribution, but they may also feel excluded from the decision making process. They will likely need to be consulted before any final decisions are made to ensure that they can participate in the process.
How to Hold a Walking Meeting
Follow these four steps to hold an effective meeting while on the move:
1. Take Time to Plan
Prepare an agenda, bearing in mind that "walk and talk" is great for generating new ideas or problem solving, but probably not the best option for discussing the latest sales figures. Plan a safe route that matches your expected meeting time – 15 to 30 minutes is usually ideal.
Resources need to be kept to a minimum, but it's a good idea to take a notepad, or to use your phone's voice recorder or a text transcription facility, to make a note of important ideas. Check out the weather if you plan an outdoor walk and have a back-up route indoors ready, just in case.
On most occasions, you'll want to restrict the number of people attending your meeting to no more than three. It's much easier for everyone to participate when the numbers are small.
Although it's possible to have walking meetings of more than three people, larger groups will inevitably break into sub-groups of two or three. This can lead to ideas not being thoroughly discussed by the whole group, and can also make it harder for everyone to agree on an accepted position at the end of the walk.
However, this could work brilliantly in some circumstances. If, for instance, you want a large team to brainstorm ideas and then meet for a discussion, you could divide it into sub-groups for the walking meeting and feed back together in the office.
Remember that people have different levels of fitness and be sure to find out if individuals have special needs that you'll need to cater for. If one of your team struggles with steps, for instance, plan a flat route.
2. Let People Know in Advance What's Happening
Don't spring a walking meeting on your participants! Send several gentle email reminders in the days leading up to the meeting, so that they have plenty of time to prepare. They'll want to have comfy shoes and appropriate clothing – your meeting won't be a success if people are cold or in pain.
3. Keep It Short and Sweet
Being out of the usual office environment means that it might be tempting (initially, at least) to wander into irrelevant conversation or to allow yourself to be distracted by your surroundings. But you want people to take your walking meeting seriously, so stick to the agenda, encourage participants to be concise, and record anything important.
Walk at a pace that's comfortable for everyone involved, and consider sweetening your walking meeting with a stopover – although, for health and concentration reasons, preferably not for high-calorie food. A healthy drink, a small snack, or even a splendid view – offer any of these as part of a short break to recharge people's creative juices.
4. Follow up on Your Walking Meeting
It's really important to follow up and take action on your walking meetings, so that your colleagues see them as valuable. Ensure that you give them regular feedback about any changes that you've implemented as a result of the experience.
Former head of Apple Steve Jobs was well known for his love of walking meetings. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey of Twitter are big fans too, so you're in good company!
Walking meetings can help to boost people's creativity, relationships, and physical and mental health, and could even help to prolong their lives. They are a step in the right direction to combating serious health problems caused by too much sitting.
These meetings are most suitable for general discussion and brainstorming sessions. They can generate ideas or solutions that can be discussed and developed at a later date in a more formal setting. They are relatively easy to organize, and require no special equipment. Their relaxed atmosphere means people are more likely to be brief, energized and engaged.
You can set up a walking meeting by following these four simple steps:
- Take time to plan.
- Let people know in advance what's happening.
- Keep it short and sweet.
- Follow up on your walking meeting.
Click on the thumbnail image below to see Walking Meetings represented in an infographic: