I always liked going for a walk. It helps me think; it helps me clear my head; and, growing up as nerdy, unathletic boy, it used to be my main way to get some physical activity.
Working for many years in software companies, however, it never occurred to me to incorporate walking into my professional life. In particular, walking with my coworkers—somehow it did not feel socially acceptable.
I think it was Puneet who first introduced me to the idea of walking meetings, even before I started working at his company. When he would need to discuss something which was hard, or called for on open, honest conversation, he would just invite me to step outside. I would happily oblige. It worked really well for me.
So it kind of came without saying that, when we started working together again, we would go for a walk to discuss things. When I hired people, that’s how we conducted our one-on-one meetings.
I think that one-on-ones are a very important tool in a manager’s arsenal (more on that in later posts), but to be effective they require setting up an open, trusting conversation. This is exactly where walking helps.
There are well known advantages of walking. Obviously, in our line of work, when we spend our waking time glued to computer monitors, any physical activity is beneficial. Walking was long established to boost creativity.
But beyond that, an effective one-on-one requires opening up. Using a conference room will make it just yet another meeting. Forcing both of you outdoors and away from the office completely changes the context; it even changes the power dynamics. A manager’s power over his or her reports is limited to the office. Outside, you are just two people walking down the street. Now there is some hope for an honest, direct conversation.
As I’ve kept doing my one-on-ones while walking, I somehow believed that it was our invention, our little secret. When I joined my new company, I was quite happy to discover that they also have been doing their one-on-ones while walking as long as they could remember! And not just them: turns out that even Steve Jobs preferred walking meetings.
Of course to really enjoy a walk, you need to go walking in a nice-looking place. If it is separated from cars, even better. It’s probably not a coincidence that my two last jobs both had offices close to beautiful bike paths. (Something to keep in mind next time you are looking for a job, or for office space.)
I still think that most meetings are not suitable for walking—when there are more than two or three people, for example, or when you need a white board. But some meetings, like one-on-ones and strategy brainstorms, seem to be a particularly good fit.
Even more broadly, my lesson learned is to never assume that something is not socially acceptable just because people around me are not doing it that way.
Good ideas are worth trying.
Go for a walk.