Step-by-Step Guide: Nonprofit Strolling Meetings | Beth's Blog

Step-by-Step Guide: Nonprofit Strolling Meetings

Meeting Design, Walking

Meetings can not only be a waste of time but also zap our energy.  Is everyone sitting around the table, but only engaged on their mobile phones or laptops, checking email or looking at social feeds? Is everyone suffering from “foggy brain” caused by too much sitting down meetings?  Walking meetings can help shakes things up.  One recent study at Stanford University determined staff were more creative when they were walking versus sitting and encouraged walking meetings for more innovation.

Wondering how to organize and facilitate a meeting where everyone is on their feet instead of their devices?  Here’s a step-by-step guide to get your nonprofit staff walking their way to more productive work.

1.  Pick the Right Meeting To Experiment with Walking Meetings

Not all meetings are ideal for walking meetings, especially if you are just introducing the idea into your nonprofit workplace.  To get started, make a list of all the meetings you typically attend. These may include:

  • Organizational Meetings: A big part of work life, especially for those who are staff members of traditional nonprofits, are meetings.   Think about all the meetings that are schedule in a typical work week.   Many are face-to-face – these might include 1:1 meetings with colleagues or your boss; small team meeting, or large team meeting.
  • Professional Networking Meetings: Meetings with people for coffee or lunch or visiting their office (or vice a versa) for professional relationship building.
  • Conferences: Small or large sessions at conferences.
  • Virtual Meetings: Conference calls, online chats, and webinars.

All of these meetings can be reinvented as walking meetings, but the easiest way to get started is with virtual meetings when you are participating remotely and don’t need to be at your desk to present any material.   Many apps can be easily be transferred to your mobile phone while you walk.    One-on-one meetings, like check-ins or donor cultivation meetings are perfect to do as walking meeting because it is about building relationships – and nothing does that better than walking shoulder-to-shoulder.

2.    Think about your goals:

Walking has the added benefit of getting your creative juices going.  So, if you are having a brainstorm meeting, making it a walking meeting will make it even more productive.   Or maybe you want to change up the dynamics of  small group meeting by changing your normal routine.    And, if you are doing a 1:1 and improve relationship building, moving is helpful.      Whatever you goals, it is important to frame why you think a walking meeting is a better fit for the job and frame the issue you want to address before.

Karen Bloom, the CEO at Project Kesher, saves up problems that her staff is trying to address and bundles into a weekly problem solving walking meeting.

The FeetFirst site suggests that these tasks are perfect for walking meetings:

  • Educate and inform; educate about things in the environment while experiencing and demonstrating them. Different experts can speak at different locations.

  • Problem solve; Problem solving can be enhanced by the physical activity of walking (“thinking on your feet”), as well as informal interactions among people.

  • Enhance creativity; creativity is enhanced when people are physically active, and stimulated by variety in events and visual, auditory, and other senses.

  • Socialize and build team spirit; relationships are developed while walking and team building occurs while involved in informal activities. The spontaneous mixing that occurs on a walk can enhance interactions.

  • Make decisions; walking meetings help prepare for decision making and can result in more options for consideration.

  • Resolve conflict; walks can help resolve conflicts for pairs and small groups. For larger groups the walk improves team interactions and helps generate solutions.

3.  Let People Know in Advance

It is important to give enough warning for a walking meeting so people can dress accordingly — bring a coat or sweater or wear comfortable shoes.    Walking meetings in high heels are not much fun.

4. Planning and Preparation

Like any other business meeting, there is agenda preparation but there are some other items you need to think about.     A walking meeting is not just a walk on the beach, you are doing work.  So it is important to layout the topics for discussion and tasks.    In addition, you need to allow time for stretching, and bio break.     Also, allow time to capture notes after the meeting.    I like to take a long a pen and small pad to jot down notes, but I find that if I am doing a walking meeting, I’m retaining information better and some quiet time right after the meeting ends is enough to capture the notes.

5. The Actual Walk

Plan your route in advance, if possible, so you know how far you can walk in your allotted time and avoid noisy spots or too narrow walkways.   If you have more than one other person, you will have to do a little bit more planning.  According to the Feet First Walking Guide:

  • One on One Meetings: Meeting as a pair tends to be easy. Walking breaks down the barrier of a desk and chair, and lets people communicate more equally.
  • Small Group Meetings of 3-5: Meetings with three or more can be affected by the width of the sidewalk or path, variations in terrain, and possible physical barriers. This size group is flexible, as discussion can occur while walking, or if desired the group can stop along the walk.
  • Groups of 5-16: Meetings with larger groups tend to result in more than one conversation while walking. If the whole group is to be involved, make time to stop and gather as a whole.
  • Groups Larger than 16: These tend to require more planning, with a strong leader and potentially a few assistants if needed. There will be conversations while walking, then planned stops for presentations.

Also be sure to establish the rules such as “stay with the group” “Slowest walker sets the pace,”  or “no cell phones,”  before you head out.   If you have a larger group you might want to designate someone as the note taker.   And, if you have more than one person, you might have to break the group up by pace of their walking.      Include stops in your meeting to summarize agenda points and shift into next topic.

6.  Involve Different Office Locations

If you are not doing walking meetings because your nonprofit has different office locations or you have some “virtual staff”,  you can still have walking meetings with everyone.   Have staff at different locations organize them at their location and share photos of your walks with each other.  Some organizations have a slack channel or online discussion area devoted to their walks.  ETR does this really well, here’s a post by their CEO.

There is nothing better than to boost productivity, build morale, and melt off stress than getting everyone to move.  You can find additional resources on walking meetings here and of course in my book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, addresses walking meetings in more detail.

Update:  Here are some suggestions and tips if you have people in your organization who have difficulty walking.

Has your organization hosted a walking meeting?  What has been your experience?  What are your tips?

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  1. […] Beth Kanter gives us a Step-by-Step Guide: Nonprofit Walking Meetings. […]

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