We say absolutely yes, with some asterisks*. The outdoors have a fantastic effect on our minds and moods. As this article from a think tank at UC Berkeley put it:
“Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.”
The feelings nature provokes in us — focus and inspiration, among others — are the same ingredients that constitute awesome meetings, so it makes sense that they mix wonderfully. But outdoor meetings come with unique benefits and unique distractions that should be capitalized on and adjusted for, respectively. Here are our pointers for running a highly productive meeting in the sunshine.
*Choose the right type of meeting
Nature stimulates our creative problem-solving and removes us from the distractions that would otherwise be a drain on our brain energy. Take advantage of this fact! Meetings pertaining to long-term strategy, goal setting, creative concepting, or deep-level problem-solving are perfect candidates to hold outside. Partly because the new environment prompts deeper, more innovative thinking and partly because they don’t require the use of a computer. While it may be tempting to stick a laptop in your bag, we recommend opting for a notepad instead. Nature and screens tend to cancel each other out.
Tip: For inspiration, look to our templates for 30-minute brainstorming meetings. A brainstorming method like “Crazy 8s” is ideal in an outdoor scenario.
*Give it structure
While your outdoor meeting should be relaxing, this doesn’t mean it should be loose or low on content. On the contrary, the more you prepare and the more you structure, the more rewarding the meeting will be. Create an agenda up to a week in advance, giving a window for everyone to read the relevant materials, ponder the big questions being posed and formulate opinions. Set a specific purpose for what should be accomplished and keep to that purpose throughout the duration of the meeting. (Wants some tips on masterful meeting facilitation? We’ve covered that here[link] on the blog!)
Importantly, set an amount of time for the meeting and stick to it. While it’s easy to toss time-cares into the breeze, everyone still has a schedule they need to keep to. Everyone can sink deeper into the content of the meeting if they trust that the time will be kept.
*Choose your spot in advance
Save your group’s creative thinking for the meeting, rather than choosing where (and how) to sit. Note that your group will most likely have varying preferences. Some people will want to sit in the open sun, others emphatically in the shade. Some will be fine on picnic blankets, others (especially more senior) will need a better seating solution. Make sure to find a place that’s quiet and relatively isolated — there is no bigger distraction than having outsiders walking by and overhearing conversations.
Pick a spot that optimizes all of these factors and commit to it. But if it’s not working out, have a backup place in mind. Better safe than sorry with a group of people outdoors!
*Have a walk or stretch ahead of time
Carve out a moment to actually take in outdoors before you plop down and start discussing things. This will show its benefits later on — the more leeway you give for relaxing and enjoying in the beginning, the longer everyone will be able to concentrate. Did you know that monks invented yoga so they would be more comfortable and focused in meditation? Take your cues from them. If you have a yoga-lover or a fitness geek among you, have them lead the group in a few minutes of moving. Not that kind of group? Go for an extended walk ahead of time.
*Follow up immediately when you get back
If all goes to plan, your outdoor meeting will have been full to the brim with insights, memorable words and important decisions. Do your best to capture this in your notebook, in shorthand, but when you get back, go directly to your computer and type up extensive notes. Send the minutes around to the team so they can make their contributions too — that same day. It’s critical you don’t leave this task to the next day, do it right when you get back. And while you’re at it, delegate tasks to the responsible parties so you can make sure these brilliant ideas get carried forward.
The benefits of being outdoors, with all that oxygen and vitamin D free for the taking, have long been established. It’s time we infused our meetings with nature’s inspiration-giving effects. With a little gumption and preparation, meeting organizers can seize the beauty of the season and change up the ordinary meeting environment — begetting fresh, happy minds and cohesive, happy teams.