Try Walking 1 to 1s

Ever been sat in a 1 to 1 meeting (a.k.a. “1 on 1” or “catch-up”) with one of your team and felt like you were struggling to concentrate on them, unable to really listen to what they had to say? Maybe you’ve felt concrete-headed in one of those sessions, incapable of handling the incoming stream of information or mustering the cognitive power to explore your team member’s problem?

If the answer is “yes” to either of the questions above, then I may have a experiment for you…

Do you make the best use of your 1 to 1 time?

If you are a good manager or team leader, then you probably make sure that you spend some dedicated time with each member of your team every week or fortnight. Setting that time aside with each individual allows you to find out the good stuff; how they are feeling, what they are wrestling with, what they hope to achieve in the coming weeks, and so on. These sessions provide a great opportunity to build rapport and to offer help where it is needed.

Ask yourself: is the time you spend 1 on 1 with your team members Quality Time? Or do you shoe-horn it into an afternoon on a day already full of meetings, when you are unlikely to be at your best?  I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past. In fact, in an attempt to reduce the impact on my calendar of lots of short meetings dotted around throughout the week, I’ve tried lining up a long string of consecutive 1 to 1s so I talk to each member of my team in turn. That was a terrible idea, as by the penultimate session in this timetable train-wreck I found myself completely spent and incapable of offering my colleagues much more than a monosyllabic response.

Maybe that does not sound like you. You may not suffer mental fatigue during the 2nd half of your work day or you might be more self-aware than I was, and avoid meetings at those times. However, I’m guessing you probably have sleepwalked through a 1 to 1 because you were preoccupied by something else. Or lost focus at a critical time in a conversation because you felt your colleague had wandered off topic.

Walking 1-1s

On some days we really do waste the vital time we spend with the people on which we depend the most. To be great managers, we have to ensure that we, ourselves, are in the right frame of mind and emotional state to be able to support our team members with their stuff. We need to help ourselves, so we can better help them.

Go for a walk

I’ve recently discovered a remedy for my fatigued brain and failing senses when it is time for a session with one of my team; the Walking 1 to 1. That is, instead of confining ourselves to a small meeting room, a table and a pair of chairs, my reports and I have ventured outside to conduct our catch-ups on the move. It’s been great.

I have found that getting outside and talking about how things are going while taking a short walk around the neighbourhood has vastly improved the quality of these sessions. My ability to concentrate on what my colleagues have to say has increased and I have found it easier to engage in collaborative problem-solving. I even think the fact that, by walking side-by-side, we did not feel the pressure to constantly make eye contact allowed us to really listen to each other and coaching-style conversations felt very natural.

The biological reasons for this effect are pretty clear. Studies have shown that exercise boosts your mood. For instance, a brisk walk has been proven to be just as effective as antidepressants in mild to moderate cases of depression, releasing feel-good endorphins while reducing stress and anxiety. Walking is also a natural energiser, boosting circulation and increasing oxygen supply to every cell in your body, helping you to feel more alert. Furthermore, getting outdoors increases your exposure to natural sunlight (even in the UK), which can help stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and increase vitamin D uptake – which affects important things like bone health and immune systems.

I can’t say I have been trying this approach long enough to see any health benefits yet, but the potential advantages in this regard are clear. If you have 5 direct reports and have one walking meeting a day, so you can cover your team in a week, you’ve suddenly added two and half hours of exercise into your weekly schedule. If you can manage a brisk pace then, depending on your weight, you could be burning 630 and 1,400 extra calories per week. For someone like me who has to drive to work and struggles to get to the gym, this is not to be sniffed at.

A few tips

In my short experiment with Walking 1 to 1s so far, I have gathered a few lessons. Firstly, agree with your colleague upfront that you’d like to go for walk while you talk and be ready to rethink if it is not going to work for them. Check the weather report beforehand and dress appropriately (layers are your friend)! Walk on a set route that you know will fit in your meeting timebox; don’t wander aimlessly, the session will end late and therefore increase stress, not reduce it. Summarize what you have discussed and agreed when you arrive back at the office, perhaps taking note of actions together before heading off into the rest of your day.

Apparently, walking meetings are a thing. There is an excellent TED talk on the subject, lots of hits if you google it and it seems that Aristotle, Sigmund Freud and Steve Jobs loved a meeting on the move. Well, I didn’t know about all that – but I have discovered that it works for me, in particular to improve engagement in my 1 to 1 meetings.

So, why not give a Walking 1 to 1 a go and see if it works for you too?

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