Articles and Advice

Don’t Skip The Debrief, Your Future Success Depends On It

The Blue Angels are the US Navy’s highly-skilled and highly-disciplined flight demonstration squadron. The group performs more than 300 times a year. After each display, without fail, they will meet for a debrief.

For the Blue Angels team, the debrief is non-negotiable and is completely independent of whether they had success or failure. The debrief ensures that everyone on the team knows what worked and what didn’t.

Why You Shouldn’t Skip The Debrief

Whether you choose to make it a formal meeting or a casual get together in the staff kitchen, the main objective of a debrief is to encourage conversation and uncover valuable information to ensure future success.

Debriefing opens the lines of communication allowing members of the team to share insights and information. A project shouldn’t be considered complete until the debrief has taken place.

At the end of a big project or milestone, it’s likely that everyone in the team is exhausted and drained. Meeting for a debrief will sound about as appealing as a trip to the dentist. Make the debrief more of an after-party, it’s less likely to feel like a chore then.

Get the team together and ask a few questions like:
– What worked?
– What didn’t work?
– What can we do differently?

Dig deeper and ask:
– If there were no restrictions on time, money or resources what would we do?
– What does wild success look like?

How to Successfully Run a Debrief

Keep it Simple

Keep things casual and brief. Not too casual, though, as you may not achieve anything valuable if it’s a free for all. Make sure you have an agenda, so there is some structure to the meeting. Establish the outline of the debrief at the start so everyone knows what is expected of them. Then move through the whole process as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Keep it Positive

There’s likely to be both good and bad aspects of a project. The debrief is an excellent opportunity to analyse what went wrong, but it’s not the place for a public scolding. If there is an issue with a team member, that can be addressed in another forum. Any negative aspects should be balanced with recognition of the things went well. It’s just as important to identify the positive aspects of the project to replicate them in the future.

Keep it Honest

Make it clear to everyone that openness and honesty are encouraged. If team members feel uncomfortable about opening up, consider a few conversation starters to get the flow going. Ask team members to write down a few notes and then share them with the rest of the team. Encourage everyone to openly listen to others. Valuable information is easily missed if people come into the debrief with pre-conceived ideas or judgments.

Keep it Going

Don’t leave the debrief without a set of actionable items. The debrief should unearth information that will ensure future mistakes are avoided. Document action items and share them with everyone. Walking away with tangible action items will help everyone feel the debrief was valuable. Documenting outcomes help team members hold on to the information, so it doesn’t disappear as they become busy with the next project.

A debrief is not dependent on success or failure, a debrief is about identifying the best kind of thinking for prolonged success. Einstein said, ͞We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.͟A successful debrief uncovers what kind of thinking led to success and what kind of thinking led to failure.

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