Using the Parking Lot
by Rick Brenner
In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more effective.
Whether you call it the parking lot, the issues bin, or the issues list, accumulating contributed items that aren't quite on topic during a given meeting can help keep the meeting focused and moving forward. Here are some tips to help you get more from the practice, or to motivate you to start.
- Make it visible
Enter the items on a flip chart or other medium that's visible to all. Visibility helps deter duplication, and it might spur additional creativity.
The piping plover, a threatened species of shore bird. One conjecture about the incidence of parking lot items is that we tend to generate them when our creativity combines with innovative projects in settings that lack sufficient resources, or sufficient stability, to support fuller exploration of the many opportunities we uncover. A similar phenomenon might be occurring in nature. Observations indicate the existence of a species gradient from the Earth's equator down to the poles. If we consider extinction as analogous to the evolutionary "parking lot," it's possible that more species are being "parked" at high latitudes due to perturbations in high-latitude environments, such as the blooming of the human species (in the case of the plover), or perhaps repeated glaciations. Whether the environment is responsible, or whether differences in speciation and extinction rates are responsible, is an open question. See a recent letter to Science by Charles R. Marshall, and a responding letter from Dolph Schluter and Jason Weir, in Science, 27 August 2007, p. 451. Their original article, "The latitudinal gradient in recent speciation and extinction rates of birds and mammals," appeared in Science, 16 March 2007, p. 1574. Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Enlist a valet
- A meeting of more than about seven people needs a parking lot valet — someone to record the items, and to verify that the contributors agree with the wording. For smaller meetings, the scribe or recorder can play the valet role.
- Encourage self-parking
- Encourage meeting attendees to self-park. That is, if a contributor knows in advance that a contribution will be parked, why not add it to the parking lot after the meeting? Although there is some value in announcing the contribution during the meeting, the time lost doing so is also valuable.
- Review at meeting's end
- A very brief end-of-meeting review of the parking lot should assign to each item someone from leadership to "own" it and follow it to resolution.
- Follow up
- Every item from the parking lot should make a later appearance as a part of a future agenda item, or on the next edition of the parking lot resolution list, or on the cumulative parking-lot-awaiting-resolution list. Nothing should disappear into the void. Each item's owner is responsible for tracking it.
- Track the contributors
- Track the contributors of parked items. Investigate why some people repeatedly offer items that end in the parking lot. Do they not understand the agenda? Are they uniquely brilliant? Are their concerns being ignored? Why are they not self-parking?
- Maintain a parking lot history
- Every item from the parking lot
should make a later appearance
as a part of a future agenda item
or a parking lot resolution list
- Compile all parking lots, and examine them for patterns. Are some kinds of items repeatedly parked? If so, perhaps these are issues that need attention, or perhaps some people are preventing them from getting attention.
- Track the context
- Track the contexts in which parking lot items appear. A high incidence of parked items might indicate that the group hasn't been proactive in that topic area — the issues involved are "running ahead" of the group.
Any tool can be abused, including the parking lot. The Chair, for instance, can use it to stifle discussion of any topic not explicitly on the agenda. Tracking parked items can limit this risk, but you might have to deal with parking lot abuse as a performance issue. Since that can be a complex question, and it isn't on today's agenda, I've added it to the parking lot. Top Next Issue
The term parking lot is an Americanism. Even though the British call them car parks, my colleague Graham Oakes reports that the term "parking lot" works in the context of meetings in the United Kingdom. My colleague Nynke Fokma reports from other European languages: Bent (Danish) says, "Boette" (Marmalade jar); Emmanuel (French) says, "Parking"; Nynke (Dutch) says, "Even opzij?" (Aside for now?); and Marco (Italian) says, "Possiamo parlarne dopo?" (Can we talk about this later?).
More reports: Mary Ann (Tagalog (Phillipines)) says, "Tsaká na" (Later). Christine (Sydney, Australia, where she works with environmental organizations) says, "Let's park that in the bike rack for later."
If you send me your term from your own language, I'll post it.
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
- Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
- Inner Babble
- It goes by various names — self-talk, inner dialog, or internal conversation. Because it is so often disorganized and illogical, I like to call it inner babble. But whatever you call it, it's often misleading, distracting, and unhelpful. How can you recognize inner babble?
- TINOs: Teams in Name Only
- Perhaps the most significant difference between face-to-face teams and virtual or distributed teams is their potential to develop from workgroups into true teams — an area in which virtual or distributed teams are at a decided disadvantage. Often, virtual and distributed teams are teams in name only.
- Wacky Words of Wisdom
- Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules. We do tend to over-generalize them, though, and when we do, trouble follows. Here are a few of the more dangerous ones.
- Hill Climbing and Its Limitations
- Finding a better solution by making small adjustments to your current solution is usually a good idea. The key word is "usually."
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 4: Virtual Trips to Abilene
- One dysfunction of face-to-face meetings is the Trip to Abilene, which leads groups to make decisions no members actually support. It can afflict virtual meetings, too, even more easily. Available here and by RSS on March 4.
- And on March 11: Historical Debates at Work
- One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates. Available here and by RSS on March 11.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Decision-Making for Team Leaders
- Effective group decision-making requires far more than knowing how to organize a discussion or take a vote. This program is designed for both new and experienced team leaders or team sponsors, managers, project managers, portfolio managers, program managers, and executives and general managers. It is especially valuable to people who work in organizations that confront fluid environments, in which decisions must be made in the context of uncertainty. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
- Mastery of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Managing in Fluid Environments
- Most people now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know what's coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: