Walk and Talk

What are the benefits of holding a meeting while walking?  This was a question posed in a conversation I had recently with other knowledge management professionals who appeared intrigued by the idea. I offered to write about this.

My experience

I have had several walking meetings and even now several years on, I can still recall some of the conversations. It is curious. These walking meetings made the ‘memory palace‘ concept real, as I unconsciously used the places in which these walks took place to hook memories of the conversation. Contrast this with countless meetings in typical meeting rooms which I cannot recall without consulting the notes I made at the time.

My introduction to walking meetings was through a Gurteen knowledge cafe called Knowledge by Walking About hosted by the Cass Business School in the City of London. I joined three others in a walk around the business school’s local neighbourhood. We used the walk to introduce ourselves and the conversation went from there. I distinctly recall that one of the party was an elderly gentleman, a former professor from the business school. He was a polymath and fascinating. One of the other women worked in science, about which I know little which gave me scope to ask questions. The area has many historic links, and as we wandered through the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, the conversation took some interesting turns as we discussed what we were seeing.

I put this walking meeting experience into practice at work shortly afterwards. I invited a colleague, who I had been linked with through a Randomised Coffee Trial, to join me in a walk around the local park. It was summer and a number of the deckchairs in the park were made of colourful fabric; this was a new development that I had never come across before. My colleague had just joined the organization and as we introduced ourselves, we talked about our different roles and I provided some background on our workplace that would not have been included in any induction. When I think of the park and these deckchairs I recall this man’s face, his accent, details of what he had done before he joined the organization and his eagerness to do a good job in his new role, despite his not knowing all the details of what this would entail.

Deckchair dreams in the Royal Parks
Deckchair dreams in the Royal Parks
What others think of walking meetings

The founders of Hewlett Packard, the electronics company, popularized MBWA – Management By Walking About, which the authors of ‘In Search of Excellence‘ called the ‘technology of the obvious’.

Steve Jobs of Apple fame apparently had his most serious conversations while walking, and in the TED Talk, ‘Got a Meeting, Take a Walk‘, the presenter Nilofer Merchant observes that you can combine work with looking after your health.

The benefits 

  • Walking is easy to do, provided you have comfortable shoes
  • It’s a great social icebreaker
  • Hierarchical barriers fall which leads to a more open dialogue
  • Creativity is stimulated and ideas flow as your metabolism revs up and sparks your brain cells
  • You are more likely to remember a conversation as you notice the world around you
  • You can incorporate exercise into your office routine
  • Moderate activity gives you more energy

Walking for its own sake

Walking can bring healing too.

Geoff Nicholson in The Lost Art of Walking writes that walking keeps him sane. I would concur with that view. In Born to Walk, the author Dan Rubinstein notes that our brains work differently when we are on foot. Rubinstein writes of Stanley Vollant, a Canadian doctor who works in Aboriginal villages where there is a lot of depression. Vollant uses walking as a way to heal, not only in his patients but in himself.

During a particularly stressful time in the office, I took to walking to work several days a week. This took me an hour and a half and during the course of my walk I was fortunate enough to walk along side two bodies of water and through two parks. While I sometimes listened to podcasts or music, at other times I just thought about my work situation. Walking made me mentally resilient so that when I encountered the people who were making life difficult, I was able to handle the situation calmly. Walking was my saviour. I also got fitter and saved on bus fare!

My advice to you today: get walking. Take the initiative and invite a colleague for a walk.

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