Have you ever seen a dog follow a rabbit trail? The dog endlessly sniffs around in circles, never getting anywhere. And it seldom catches the rabbit!
A rabbit trail in business is that path you go down that wasn’t on your meeting agenda or your plan for the day. These rabbit trails can jeopardize a project’s completion, a business’s success, and an employee’s ability to get things done.
Meetings often take us down a rabbit trail when participants discuss anything but the scheduled agenda. On the other hand, some rabbit trails create the best ideas for the organization! The challenge is determining which rabbit trails are productive and which are not.
Below are recommendations for handling rabbit trails without losing the value the trail might provide for your family business.
1. Always have an agenda for meetings, even if the agenda is created as the meeting begins. What is the objective? How long should the meeting take? How will new topics be handled? Who will keep the meeting on track? These are foundational questions that should be considered prior to every meeting.
2. Always bring the discussion back to the topic at hand. Utilize the concept of a parking lot. As discussions unfold, you “park” items not on the agenda that might need to be addressed, but not in this meeting.
3. Set clear and intentional priorities.
- If you are running the meeting, keep it focused on the task at hand. This doesn’t mean you don’t give team members new projects; it just means you may (depending on the individual) need to help them prioritize their activities.
- If you are an employee and the boss suggests a new idea, ask where it ranks among the goals already set for the company and the priorities she set for you earlier in the week (or earlier in the day). Ask questions, and get clarification.
4. Set aside time for brainstorming
- Understand the old Mark Twain concept of “eat a frog for breakfast.” Essentially, focus on the most difficult thing you need to do first thing in the morning. Then you will have accomplished the hardest thing early and the rest of the day is available for all other activities— including rabbit trails if they can’t be avoided.
on a regular basis. True brainstorming combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem solving with lateral thinking. This process can lead to some of the best business-growth ideas—and those aren’t rabbit trails.
Once you know that a rabbit trail can provide value, you can take the time to explore all that it has to offer.