The Most Misused Tool in Meetings

Lisa came to the meeting ready to participate. She had some specific ideas that she wanted to share ideas that she thought would help the team move forward on the problem they were discussing. The meeting got off to a good start and everyone was involved in the discussion. At what seemed like the appropriate time, Lisa shared her idea.

People didnt seem as enthused about it as she thought they might. So she talked a bit more about it, hoping they would understand. Some other people didnt think her idea was quite on track with the discussion, but some others became more interested and asked questions about her idea and the issues that would surround it if it were implemented.

Soon the facilitator suggested that Lisas idea was a good one, but that she was going to put her idea in the Issue Bin so that we could get on with the meeting agenda and that the group could get back to her idea later.

Lisas heart sank. Shed seen this happen before. In the last company she worked for they called this Issue Bin thing a Parking Lot. Once your idea got put in the Parking Lot, it was gone forever. In fact, in her mind shed quit calling it a Parking Lot and started calling it the Black Hole a place where ideas go, never to be seen again. . .

The Tool

In case youve never been to a meeting where an Issue Bin or a Parking Lot is used, let me explain. Often groups or individuals will get off track a new topic will come up or an idea will begin to be discussed that isnt the main focus of the meeting, or might be better discussed later on. At that point whoever is facilitating the meeting would suggest that this topic or issue be placed in the Issue Bin. They would then go to a chart on the wall labeled Issue Bin and write a brief description of the issue so that the idea wont be lost. In other words, the goal of this tool is to keep a group on track with their agenda.

Beyond that though, the Issue Bin is a way to help a group hold that thought so that the idea isnt lost and can be discussed later when the time is right.

The Misuse

The most common misuse of this valuable tool is exactly what Lisa had experienced in her previous company. Facilitators put items into the Issue Bin or Parking Lot with no real plan to revisit them they are using the Bin as a place to put stuff they dont really want to talk about at all.

Or, facilitators do have good intentions, but when the meeting runs long (how many meetings have you been to that didnt go long?), and time is short, the Issue Bin item(s) get lost in the rush to finish the meeting.

So, regardless of the intention or best-laid plans of the facilitator, the Parking Lot becomes a sham and a manipulation, never achieving the desired result of capturing the idea and holding it for later exploration.

Given this, it is no surprise that the Lisa and people with a similar experience bring up their item again and again because they are afraid the idea will get lost.

The Best Use

Think of an Issue Bin as TiVo for your meetings. If you have a TiVo connected to your TV you can easily record any television show and watch it later. This allows you to watch the show at a time more convenient for you and, much to the disappointment of advertisers, skip through the commercials easily so that the overall time spent in watching the show is reduced.

Just like TiVo, a well used Issue Bin allows you timeshift an issue or idea to discuss it at the time most convenient or productive for the team. And just like TiVo may reduce your watching time, often when the issue is held for later, the ideas and actions discussed in the interim may reduce the amount of time or energy required to effectively discuss or explore the issue.

It isnt hard to use an Issue Bin effectively. It just requires a process and a bit of discipline.

1.Make sure that everyone knows the function of the Issue Bin.
2.Capture items to the Issue Bin as appropriate.
3.Schedule time in the agenda (typically 2-3 minutes is all that is required) to review the Issues near the end of the meeting. This review should answer three questions:
Is this still an issue (or has it been resolved since it was placed in the Bin?)
Is there an action item that can be created from this issue? If so, what is it?
Is this a topic that needs to be on a future meeting agenda?
4.Dont leave the Issue Bin until something is done with each issue. If nothing can be done with it at this time, consider saving the issue and having it reside on the Issue Bin at the start of your next meeting.

The bottom line? Do something with every one of them! Taking this simple approach to using this tool will make your meetings run more productively and make sure that all of the best ideas and issues are both raised and considered.

Just like any tool, it is wonderfully valuable when used correctly. And just like any other tool, it can be damaging and counterproductive when it isnt.

Back to Lisa

Lisa was pleased at the end of the meeting that the facilitator asked the group what they should do with Lisas idea. The group decided it warranted more discussion they encouraged Lisa to work on some aspects of the idea a bit and it was agreed that this would be the first agenda topic for the next meeting.

From that day forward, Lisa felt more comfortable contributing to the team and she now knew that the Issue Bin or Parking Lot or whatever you want to call it, didnt have to be a Black Hole that it could be a useful tool for any meeting.

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