A few months ago, I was driving an ATV up a rocky trail with a few other men I had met only the day before. The sun had set and we turned on the headlights, pulling bandanas over our noses to keep the dust out of our lungs. You couldn’t hear anything but your own thoughts as we clambered over tree roots and rocks on the way up the mountain.
Our wives were back at the cabin, where all of us were spending a few days learning from each other, and all the men were out to build a campfire and talk about how to improve our relationships.
Now you might imagine that this would be an awkward experience—sharing details of our personal lives with practical strangers and asking for their advice. That’s certainly what I was expecting.
But once we arrived at the top of the mountain, parked the ATVs, built a roaring fire, and sat down around it, the atmosphere changed. It felt easier to trust these people. We had come there for the same purpose, and something about the mere presence of the fire put us at ease.
Sitting around a fire, you don’t have to look at each other or be concerned about your body language. The fire gives plenty of visual stimulus to focus your attention on, with its ever-moving patterns and changing composition.
Let’s take a walk
Most business conversations you need to have as a leader, like one-on-ones, don’t need to be as deep and personal as sitting around that campfire was for me. But you can get some of those benefits by having a walking meeting. Rather than sitting across from each other in your office, take a walk side-by-side. This allows for several things to happen:
- The posture is not as confrontational. Walking next to each other presents you as equals, leaving behind the accoutrements of the office setting that can reinforce the hierarchy.
- Since eye contact is not required, people who aren’t as comfortable with that or other face-to-face conversational conventions will find it easier to talk.
- When you’re both looking forward rather than at each other, it’s easier to broach sensitive subjects, give feedback, or acknowledge faults. This builds trust.
- When planned well, the walk-and-talk is timeboxed. This means that if the conversation turns out to be awkward, tense, or unproductive, you both know when it will end.
- Research shows that walking correlates positively with creative thinking, which can be a boon for problem-solving.
Things to try
If those benefits sound intriguing, give walking meetings a try. Here are some ideas:
- Have your one-on-ones as walking meetings. Be sure to allow adequate time and be sensitive to your team members’ physical circumstances.
- Practice your listening skills by inviting someone along just to learn more about them. Get them talking about a subject they love, whether it’s related to work or not. This helps people feel valued intrinsically and not just as contributors on the team. And since your intention is nothing more than getting to know them, they will perceive your genuine interest in them to be sincere.
- Try holding your daily standup as a walking meeting (as long as your team isn’t too large to make this unwieldy). The limited time ensures everyone is concise, and the fresh air can be invigorating.
- Think about any other kinds of meetings that might benefit from being reimagined in this framework.