The Parking Lot Facilitation Tool

Being respectful of your board members’ time and energy is important to retention. The “parking lot” is a useful facilitation tool for keeping your meetings on track and on time. It allows open issues or ideas not on the agenda to be “parked” for discussion at a later time, keeping the meeting on track. But more importantly, it sends a message that everyone’s contributions are important, even if they aren’t on the agenda.

Determine where to keep your parking lot. In person, a whiteboard or flip-chart allows everyone in the room to see the parked items and watch as the list grows. In a virtual meeting, tasking someone to jot items down in a notepad will suffice. Either way, assign a parking lot attendant to write down the items and note their contributor.

During the meeting, add items to the parking lot when the issue or idea arises but doesn’t adhere to the agenda or the conversation is moving off subject. By adding a note to the parking lot, the item will not be forgotten and the contributor can be assured their idea will be addressed at the appropriate time. The meeting facilitator, likely your board chair, will need to take responsibility for keeping the meeting on track but anyone can suggest that an item be added to the parking lot for later discussion.

At the end of the meeting, leave a few minutes to review the parking lot items. If an idea or issue is no longer relevant (if it was resolved later in the meeting, for example) then it can simply be removed. If an item can be addressed immediately in the time remaining, it should be discussed now. If an item needs additional homework (additional information needs to be collected for decision-making) or there is simply not enough time, then it should be added to a future agenda or moved to an email conversation*. It is vital for the tool’s effectiveness that each idea is reviewed and addressed. It can be helpful to assign remaining items to someone who can “own” it and ensure its resolution.

Finally, avoid stifling important discussions by overusing the parking lot. When used judiciously, the parking lot can be a useful facilitation tool that helps keep your meetings on track and makes effective use of board members’ time. If you’re considering using this tool during your meetings, be sure to introduce the idea to board members and get group buy-in.