We’ve been advocates of walking coaching meetings for many years. Research tells us that outdoor walking leads to more ‘creative’ thinking than sitting inside or being pushed in a wheelchair outdoors. And the boost in divergent thinking lingers when you return to your (indoor) desk. For many of our coachees who are returning to work from maternity or shared parental leave it’s a welcome break from the desk – they’re just not used to the physical inactivity!
Throughout 2020 and into this year we’ve constantly asked ourselves “how can we make coaching time as good, if not better, than it was when we met in person?” We’ve also held onto the question “What would it take to be the bright spot in our coachees’ diaries?” Because let’s face it, back to back virtual meetings have been painful and no matter how good the coaching, another screen meeting chips away at our coachees’ energy.
But I don’t have a ‘creative job’
‘Creative thinking’ is ‘divergent thinking’ or better labelled as ‘problem-solving.’ Divergent thinking is simply thinking that goes in different directions. Most of us need to solve problems in our work and home life and if we’re able to think of new and different options for doing so, we give ourselves a better chance of finding a decent solution. Of course coaching time is essentially problem-solving time.
What does the research say?
An oft used way to test divergent thinking is the Guilford Alternate Uses Test (GAU). If you’ve ever been asked to come up with as many uses for a brick as you can in a minute, that’s the GAU test.
In Experiment 1, while seated and then when walking on a treadmill, participants did the GAU test of and walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity. In Experiment 2, participants completed the GAU when seated and then walking, when walking and then seated, or when seated twice. Again, walking led to higher GAU scores. Moreover, when seated after walking, participants exhibited a residual creative boost. In another experiment, participants sat inside, walked on a treadmill inside, walked outside, or were rolled outside in a wheelchair. The result? Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies.
But don’t you need to write things down in coaching?
When working remotely we invite our coachees to walk outdoors whilst we remain at our desks. We take notes, including agreed action points, and send a photograph to our coachees afterwards.
When we’re coaching in person we factor in time at the end to record actions. This might be back in the office or on a park bench. We always have a hardback notebook with us to take notes on the go.
The exception to this is when we’re doing a Strengths Profile debrief. We like to make this a tactile experience by inviting our coachees to hold their strengths in their hands (chunky cards with images and definition of the strength printed on it).
What if it’s raining?
We’re guided by our coachees’ preferences and if they want to walk in the rain we have some beautiful umbrellas. Most of our coaching meetings are stationary but the option is always there to put them in motion.
Comeback coaching for returning colleagues
Executive comeback coaching helps employees identify and address any concerns or issues they have about their return to work. Executive coaching also helps employees better understand their value and potential to the business and, through a personal action plan, supports their transition back to work. Find out more.
 Oprezzo, M. and Schwartz, D.L. Give your ideas some legs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition (2014) Vol. 40, No. 4, 1142–1152