Using a Parking Lot Effectively During a Meeting

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A parking lot is a list of issues that have been “parked” (set aside for later discussion) during a meeting, allowing the meeting leader or the facilitator to keep the meeting focused on its purpose when it might be missed because of a difficult side issue.

Usually it is the meeting facilitator who asks the group whether an issue can be “parked” so that the agenda can be accomplished but anyone in the meeting can request this tool be used.  A participant may say, “I have information about this issue that it’s not appropriate to discuss now.  I’ll be prepared to discuss it in two weeks.  Could we park it until then?”

Any issue that is not related to the purpose of the meeting SHOULD be parked.  It is up to the facilitator to insist that the meeting stay on track.  Putting a labelled sheet up prior to the start of the meeting and explaining its usage before the agenda is tackled, ensures that everyone has an opportunity to suggest its use when appropriate.

The most important step in using this tool is the resolution of the issues listed.  People will become reluctant to use the tool if they find that it’s simply a way to keep them quiet.  Each item on the list must have a plan for its resolution, or at least further discussion.  For this reason, the meeting leader or facilitator must keep an eye on the list and, as it grows, ensure that there will be sufficient time at the end of the meeting to discuss how each issue will be tackled.  I like to ensure that each issue has an “owner,” someone who is in the meeting.  That person makes a commitment to the rest of the group to report back to the entire group with a resolution of, or a plan to resolve, the issue by a specific date.  Any member of the group can call the “owner” if they have not heard by the specified date.

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