‘Parking Lot’ Principles

A ‘Parking Lot’ is an extremely useful device for ensuring your meetings keep on track with the full support and attention of the attendees.
Essentially, it is a simple sheet of paper headed ‘Parking Lot’ (unfortunately, the UK translation of ‘Car Park’ doesn’t quite convey the correct message).

It is most commonly used in the following type of situation.
When somebody raises an important point or gains a valuable insight into something during the meeting, they are prone to voice it even if it is not relevant to the meeting objectives. People then tend to discuss it because it is important, and they do not want to forget it.
Simply drawing the group back on to the objectives at this point can create two issues – firstly that some of your people are half-distracted in seeking not to forget the important issue, and secondly that the new train of thought could spring further detours at any point. Many meetings lose efficiency in this way; getting distracted onto other important topics which they were not designed to address.
The ‘Parking Lot’ enables you to capture the point that people are concerned about, and to move on. It does this by adhering to a number of principles:
  1. The Parking Lot is used only when the topic is clearly not part of the meeting’s (current) purpose and process
  2. This is confirmed by explicitly checking the point against the written objective for the meeting
  3. The point is written clearly and unambiguously on the Parking Lot flipchart sheet, and checked for understanding with its initiator
  4. If it becomes relevant in a later part of the process, it is explicitly included at that point, and ticked of the list if people agree it is fully addressed
  5. The Parking Lot is always emptied before the end of the meeting and owners or mechanisms identified to progress or act as custodians for each item. (That it is items that have not been already ticked off during the meeting.)
In this way, people can appreciate that their concern will not be lost or overlooked, and they can confidently put it to one side and fully engage in the process of the meeting.
Reflecting back on the word ‘current’ in item 1, the Parking Lot can also be used to capture important points which are relevant to the objectives but which will be better addressed at a later point in the agenda. I have seen them used this way on training courses to put people’s mind at ease and maintain the flow as planned. The form of words has been something along the lines of: “That is a really good question, but we will be coming on to that this afternoon in the section on XYZ. But I will just write it into the Parking Lot so that we can come back to you and make sure your question is properly addressed at that point – is that okay?”
Used in this way, items can be added to the Parking Lot when they are raised ‘out of time’, and then ticked off the Parking Lot as they are addressed, leaving just the items which need something else to be arranged outside of the meeting.

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