Parking lots can provide more than a space to put your car

The parking lot tool can be an effective way to help keep your meeting on track.

Most people are familiar with the need for an agenda to stay on track during meetings. Sometimes, when an official presider is not present at a meeting or when you have been asked to facilitate a discussion, the meeting can easily move away from agenda topics. Michigan State University Extension suggests using the parking lot tool to provide assistance in helping a meeting run effectively.

Creating the parking lot is as simple as taking a sheet of flip chart paper, writing “parking lot” across the top and posting the sheet in a convenient place where it is visible to everyone and has a marker close by for adding comments easily. Some basic flip chart art indicating “parking spaces” and/or cars can visually improve the flip chart and add a unique flare. Then, as discussion items come up during the meeting that don’t fall within the scope of the agenda, use the parking lot as a space to remember that item for later discussion.

Introduce the parking lot tool to participants by explaining how you plan to use the parking lot and what its purpose will be. A good time to do so might be following the creation of Shared Expectations and before delving into the agenda. It is important that participants understand and agree to use the tool throughout the meeting before the facilitator or participants add concepts to it.

At the appropriate time, the facilitator may say: “I’d like to draw your attention to the parking lot sheet I’ve made here. Sometimes, meetings can get off topic and we end up spending valuable time on sidebars. I’d like to suggest if that were to occur today or at a future meeting we have on this topic that we put those ideas on a parking lot chart and handle them in the remaining five minutes we have left together. What do you think? I would appreciate your help today in letting me know if conversations are getting off track.”

During the meeting, if an individual diverts away from the relevant topic, the facilitator can ask them to “park it.” Nicely request them to write their thought on the parking lot. In most cases, the facilitator should refrain from posting the idea for participants; if their idea is important for them to share, they will follow through by recording it on their own.

Approximately five minutes before the conclusion of the meeting revisit the parking lot with the group to decide the most appropriate course of action for each item. It may be necessary to table the idea for a future agenda, forward to other groups/committees, or another person in a leadership position for resolution. 

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