The nonprofit’s guide to inclusive walking meetings: strolling meetings

Meetings can not only be a waste of time if they are not well designed but can also zap our energy. Even worse, the meeting can be so boring that participants tune out or cancel. One way to shake things is up to host a “Strolling” Meeting. A strolling meeting is a meeting where everyone is moving – either rolling or walking – and does not have to take place inside a conference room.

It is called “Strolling” (not walking) to be inclusive. People who use wheelchairs, roll instead of walk. The “S” stands for slowest person sets the pace to make the meeting inclusive for anyone with a mobility challenge. The point of a Strolling meeting is not a race, but rather a chance to get fresh air and fresh ideas and build relationships in the process.

Here is a simple guide for nonprofits to host inclusive walking meetings or what I am calling “Strolling Meetings.”

Step 1: Identify Meeting Goals

Good meetings start with identifying why you want to have a meeting. It is important to frame why you think a strolling meeting is a better fit for your purpose:

  • Problem-Solving: Can be enhanced by the movement and fresh air as well as informal interactions among people.
  • Build Relationship: Team building occurs while involved in informal activities and outside our normal environment. The spontaneous mixing that occurs on a strolling meeting can enhance interactions.
  • Check-Ins: Great for one-to-one conversations with people you manage or with external partners, donors, and colleagues.
  • Conflict Resolution: Can help resolve conflicts for pairs and small groups. For larger groups, changing up the environment improves team interactions and helps generate solutions.

Step 2: Pick the Right Meeting To Get Started

Not all meetings are ideal for strolling meetings, especially when you first introduce the idea at your nonprofit workplace. It is best to test the concept with smaller meetings and one-on-one check-ins are a great place to start. Don’t select a meeting where success depends on a screen to share information.

Step 3: Make Accommodations

You want to be inclusive as possible so that any employee can participate in a strolling meeting despite having a disability. Before the meeting, make sure the route you pick is accessible for people with physical disabilities to navigate. The best way to find out is to get their advice.

Be sure to ask how long they can be mobile and plan for stopping points along the way for everyone to rest. Some people with physical disabilities may only be able to “stroll” for 5-10 minutes, not a full hour or half-hour. You can modify by shortening the mobile part of the meeting.

You may need to hold the meeting inside and incorporate movement. Participants can move around inside the meeting room or stand and stretch.  Participation in activities should be optional for everyone.

When you are hosting the actual meeting, share the guidelines about “slowest pace sets the pace for the group and the activity is not a race.” This helps everyone be respectful and inclusive of participants who move at different speeds. If you need to have rest stops along the way, plan it so that you can discuss a topic while resting.

Step 4: Planning and Preparation

It is important to give an advance warning for a strolling meeting so people can dress accordingly — bring a coat or sweater, wear comfortable shoes or bring water.

A strolling meeting is not just a stroll in the park, you are doing work. Like any other business meeting, there is agenda preparation but there are some other items you need to think about. Layout the meeting topics for discussion and synch your rest stops with agenda points. Take a rest stop during the last 10 minutes to capture takeaways and next steps.

Figure how far you can go 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 route planning.

Step 5: The Actual Walk

As noted earlier, being the meeting with sharing your guidelines, most importantly about pacing and inclusivity.

  • One-to-One Meetings: Meeting as a pair tends to be easy. Strolling 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 the discussion can occur while moving, or if desired the group can stop along the way.
  • Groups of 5-16: Meetings with larger groups tend to result in more than one conversation while moving. 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 moving, then planned stops for presentations.

If you have staff at different locations organize them at their location and have them do their own strolling meeting. Encourage everyone to share photos of their stroll with each other. Some organizations use a slack channel or online discussion area devoted to their moving meetings.

There is nothing better than to boost productivity, build morale, and melt off stress than getting everyone to move during a strolling meeting. You can read more about strolling meetings in my book, “The Happy Healthy Nonprofit”.

Has your nonprofit hosted a strolling meeting?  How did you make it inclusive? What are your tips?

This post originally appeared on “Beth’s Blog”.

Beth Kanter
Master Trainer, Author, and Speaker
Beth's Blog
Beth is an internationally recognized thought leader in networks, digital transformation, philanthropy, wellbeing in the workplace and training. Beth has over 35 years working in the nonprofit sector in capacity building and has facilitated trainings for thousands of social change activists and nonprofits on every continent in the world. She is an in-demand keynote speaker and workshop leader. Named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and one of the BusinessWeek’s “Voices of Innovation for Social Media,” Beth was Visiting Scholar at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation 2009-2013. She author of the award-winning Networked Nonprofit Books and The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout ( published by J.Wiley. She writes “Beth’s Blog,” one of the first nonprofit blogs. Her clients include foundations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.