What if there were one thing you could do, based on four simple questions, that would take only a bit of effort and an hour or two a week
and would increase the performance of your team by 25%?
Well…there is. Lead your team to conduct After Action Reviews, or event debriefs.
In a recently published meta-analysis of available data on debriefs (Hum Factors. 2013 Feb;55(1):231-45), researchers reported that, on average, debriefs improved effectiveness by 25%. On Average. That means for some individuals and teams, the effect was greater.
Here is a link to the article.
Debriefs have long been a central practice for high risk professions such as military aviators. More recently, the use of debriefs (and checklists as a way to preserve lessons and improve performance) have begun to revolutionize performance in the medical and surgical professions. ( A really great read on the improvements brought by checklists in the surgical profession is Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right ).
One way to approach debriefs, patterned loosely on the Army’s After Action Review process, is lead you team (assembled together for the purpose!) to consider four simple questions.
1. What was supposed to happen?
2. What went well?
3. What didn’t go well?
4. What do we want to do differently next time?
Pretty simple process: Identify significant events with learning potential – large AND small events. Take an hour with your team to debrief. Maybe have a person outside the team facilitate. Get everyone to participate. Write the results down and use the lessons to modify or create a process/checklist.
Why, in this age of information abundance and advanced management theories is such a powerful tool often unused? Lots of reasons, but perhaps looking backward is just not what high-achievers naturally do. Perhaps we think that the lessons are clear and that a discussion of them is not needed. Perhaps it seems difficult to debrief difficult experiences without controversy.
Positive events matter – you want to debrief positive events as much as possible, since understanding what we do well is a wonderful template for repeating success.
Push through this, make it part of your culture. You will create openness, transparency, and begin to build a learning organization. You will be amazed at the sense of progress and hope it brings into your team, and how quickly team performance accelerates.
And you will wonder why you waited so long to start.