Meeting Have Tangents? Tell ‘em to Park It!
Don’t you hate it if a tangent of new ideas takes over your meeting? Letting the tangent take control means your meeting will probably suck.
As meeting host, how you handle any tangents will affect the focus and desired result of your meeting. More important, it will determine if anyone feels a sense of accomplishment after spending valuable time in that meeting.
Yep, focus and results—absent too often from meetings these days.
However, meetings are places for collaboration and inspiration, for developing new ideas and voicing concerns. But while ideas can be valuable, they may not support the outcome you want for this particular meeting. So how do you delicately deal with those ideas that fall outside the focus of your meeting?
Here’s a suckification reduction device (SRD) that you can use in your next meeting. It’s called “Put it in the parking lot.”
Putting an idea in the parking lot means you may be already using it, it’s been discussed before, or it belongs in a different meeting. By putting it aside when it’s suggested, you acknowledge its value but make it clear why it doesn’t fit the here and now.
For example, Vern suggests that the sales social media strategy being discussed in your meeting won’t work unless we change the color scheme of our logo. You know what? He could be right. But in this meeting, that concern isn’t a stopper. So in an aside to Vern, you’d say, “Vern, I see your point. Let’s put that in the parking lot and come back to it. You and I can walk over to marketing folks afterward and get an update on this issue.”
Placing a tangential idea in the parking lot does two things:
1) It conveys that you’ve heard it but you haven’t shut out the person. It’s important that he or she feels “listened to” by the meeting host.
2) It identifies an item of concern or interest while stating it isn’t the right group or the right time to discuss it.
You can probably guess the main problem with most parking lots—that good ideas linger there to rot among the bad ideas. Beware: If you continually put someone’s ideas on the parking lot board and never come back to them, that’s one fast way to foster disgruntled feelings in a team member. So at the end of the meeting, be sure to acknowledge all of the parking lot items. If those concerned want to discuss them before leaving the meeting space, go for it—but only after you’ve dismissed attendees who aren’t involved.
How do you actually place that idea in the parking lot? Physically write it down on a whiteboard or note it in the place you keep your meeting notes. If you don’t write it down, it gets forgotten, guaranteed.
Who gets to put it in the parking lot? The host for sure. Or anyone around the table could politely say, “It’s a valid idea, but let’s finish up these planned items first.” Attendees don’t need to suffer in silence if the facilitator loses control. Using the SRD technique of “putting it in the parking lot” gets everyone through the rough spots.
Remember, whether you’re a host or attendee, you can take responsibility for making your time in meetings highly productive. Don’t let tangents rule!
Jon Petz is a keynote speaker, master of ceremony, and author of Boring Meetings Suck, Get More Out of Your Meetings, Or Get OUT of More Meetings (Wiley Publishing 2011). To learn how to GET MORE out of your meetings in our short-attention-span-high-distraction world, pick up Boring Meetings Suck at your local bookstore or at www.JonPetz.com