You’ve done all the right meeting prep. You’re ready to get through your entire agenda (on time, this time), you’ve had your coffee, and you’re determined not to be derailed.
Until it happens. A seemingly innocent comment about an unrelated topic distracts several of your team members, and the meeting just can’t continue until the issue is resolved. Suddenly, productivity goes out the window, the meeting runs ten minutes long, and everyone leaves more confused than they came in.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, lost time is a regular casualty of unproductive meetings.
So what’s the solution for keeping your office communication productive?
Store It in the Parking Lot
If you find your meetings are frequently hijacked by unproductive rabbit trails, the Parking Lot Method can help you get back on track.
The idea behind a meeting “parking lot” is that if ideas arise that aren’t relevant to the meeting agenda, those topics are set aside. A parking lot can be a large sheet of paper, sticky notes, a meeting participant’s meeting minutes, or a presentation slide.
When an unrelated topic rears its ugly head, adding it to the parking lot preserves the meeting’s productivity while still acknowledging the unrelated issues. This helps keep track of important items that may not be useful to discuss in the current meeting.
Using the Parking Lot Effectively
Adding items that aren’t quite on-topic to a parking lot helps keep meetings more focused and productive. Here are a few ways to get the most out of this method.
- Keep it front and center
Making the items in your parking lot visible to everyone in the meeting serves several purposes. It keeps different people from raising the same issue, and therefore keeps meetings moving forward in a more productive manner.
A visible parking lot can also spur creativity. A brightly colored string of Post-it Notes has the look and feel of productive brainstorming. Keeping this in front of meeting attendees can be a big help in bringing out new creative ideas.
- Promote critical thinking
Using the parking lot method is an excellent way to encourage attendees to think critically. If someone knows in advance that their idea will likely be parked, they can add it to the lot after the meeting has ended. While there might be some value in raising an issue during the meeting, the time lost due to interruptions is also valuable. Critical thinking saves this time and keeps meetings on target.
- Review the lot regularly
Once you’ve made it through your entire agenda, it’s time to head to the parking lot. For every issue in the lot, check to see if the topic still needs to be addressed. If it’s already been covered, remove it from the list and move on to the next issue. If it does need to be addressed, you can either extend the meeting and discuss it, or assign ownership of the topic to a specific individual, and then schedule a follow-up meeting on that topic.
Plan on building 10-15 minutes into the total time for each meeting you hold to discuss the issues placed in the parking lot. Are some issues regularly assigned to the parking lot? Maybe these topics need individual attention or could use a champion to make sure they’re resolved.
Take Productivity Back Into Your Own Hands
Once your team learns to use the parking lot method, meetings become more productive, more intentional, and even more creative. Ideas that are sparked, even if they’re not entirely on topic, are no longer left behind because they were irrelevant to the current agenda.