There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Walking and talking

Here's something of a blogging movable feast.

On Tuesday, Arranging Matches blogged about the usefulness of walking meetings. And today, Uneasy Rhetoric offered his take on the topic.

Here's the comment I offered to the Uneasy Rhetoric discussion:

I'm a great fan of stories of real spies. The KGB was notorious for holding walking meetings with agents. On more than one occasion in Vienna, a KGB officer walked American spy John Walker around and around in a blizzard to debrief him. When Walker complained, the agent suggested it was more secure to walk and talk.

Walking and talking meetings for non-spies would offer a "personal" feel and would be useful for managers talking to subordinates or co-workers trying to sort out issues on a project.

However, I don't think walking meetings will work for more than three people because communications become an issue, especially if you are walking on a busy city sidewalk.

In the KGB walking discussions the talk was confidential because other KGB agents watched along a prearranged route to ensure that no one was tailing the pair.

The hierarchical relationship of the participants is also important, at least in my office. However, if another worker and I needed to work out how we were going to share responsibilities, why not take advantage of the nice spring weather we've been having?

With more than three people, talking and walking doesn't work. Try to imagine how the fourth, fifth and sixth listeners might arrange themselves to stay close enough to hear the discussion.

Then again, imagine the opportunities to group and regroup for a meeting of say 12 people if the meeting site were a few minutes away via light rail or a bus ride.

During the walk to the light rail station, pre-discussions of two or three individuals take place. During the train ride, new groups combine to discuss other aspects. The walk to the meeting place offers new opportunities to combine. And finally, seated at the meeting site the more formal arrangements are finalized.

On the trip back to the office reverse the process to group and regroup to discuss implementation of ideas discussed at the meeting.

Add a meal and some refreshments and you have the makings a very productive meeting.

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