Why walking meetings can make you smarter—and how to do them right

Dan Diamond, Executive Editor

Whenever I check in with Michael Koppenheffer (we have a meeting today, actually), there's one thing we try to do:

Go for a walk.

It's not always perfect. Sometimes the meeting can literally meander, as we pick our way through the construction on a sidewalk near our office. And on a hot summer day, or a chilly winter afternoon, a climate-controlled conference room doesn't seem so bad after all.

But those conversations with Michael are so consistently productive that I've become a believer in walking meetings. And I try and do them with my own team when possible, too.

That's why this Harvard Business Review story on "how to do walking meetings right" was so eye-catching. The authors brought some science to things that I've anecdotally found, and made good recommendations on how to smartly improve your walk-and-talk.

For instance, Kaiser Permanente's Ted Eytan makes the point that walking leads to changes in the brain—your body releases certain chemicals, which improve executive function and creativity. (According to a small survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review authors, workers who engaged in walking meetings were 5.25% more likely to report being creative and 8.5% more likely to report being engaged at work.)

Eytan and other walking-meeting proponents seize on another advantage: By matching someone else stride-by-stride, rather than facing each other across a table, it breaks down the barriers between manager and the person being managed.

More on the benefits of walking

There's a clear drawback from a walking meeting: No handy laptop. And that's tough when I'm trying to demonstrate to Michael how Daily Briefing readership has trended up, or pull data from a relevant email. While I can try and get some of those things off my iPhone, attempting to walk-and-talk can make it tough to jot down follow-up steps, too.

But after a morning spent staring at a screen, getting up to go for a walk is a welcome break. And if you've got the time to prepare, I've found that sending a pre-meeting email with the relevant information means Michael can read it before we go, and we can then spend the next 20 minutes focused on talking out the crucial details.

Let's say I've convinced you, and that you're planning on shifting some of your sitting meetings to walking meetings. The Harvard Business Review authors do warn against a number of common mistakes, which can trip you up.

  • Don't surprise staff with a walking meeting: It's worth asking yourself—especially if your boss just asked you to go for a 30-minute stroll—am I wearing the right shoes or clothes for a walking meeting? 
  • Don't pick a destination that can backfire: If one goal of your walking meeting is to get moving and burn calories, don't gorge on treats at Starbucks at the end of your walk.
  • Don't invite too many people: In my experience, two is company, and three can be a crowd.      

I'd tack on one more recommendation: Don't stare at your smartphone during a walking meeting. It defeats the purpose—and if things go really wrong, you won't be doing much walking of any kind for a while.

Want company for your next walk? Interested in health care business and policy? Check out our sister school's brand-new podcast

Listen to this week's episode of the Weekly Briefing, where Dan, Rivka Friedman, and Rob Lazerow discuss how Silicon Valley is investing in health care, and how employers are changing the way they offer health insurance to their employees.

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