How and why to structure it
As with most interpersonal skills, if you ‘get it’, ‘are good at it’ or ‘it just works for you’, then you are probably doing the following points or something analogous already. There’s more than one, equally valid way, to skin a cat. If it isn’t currently a strong point of yours, then below lists an optimal way to achieve the best of meeting debriefs. I’ve also linked to the original scientific research so that you can read deeper if you want.
The aim here is to provide a framework that you can rely upon no matter the outcome of the meeting. Something that you can use as a foundation to then build up your own skills and style:
- Structure your debrief into three parts
- Reactions – an opportunity for team members to share and discuss their reactions/observations
- Understanding – team members discuss and analyse the incident from which learning objectives and knowledge is developed that can be generalised to future events
- Summarise – team members review key takeaway messages to be documented
- Shorten time delay between the meeting and debriefing
- Encourage every team member to be attentive regarding what they would like to discuss during a debrief
- Ensure that a safe space is created in which team members feel comfortable sharing their views during debriefs (psychological safety)
- After a failed experience, focus on correct and erroneous actions
- After a successful experience, focus on erroneous actions
- Focus on a few critical performance issues during a debrief rather than tackling too many in one session (less is more)
- Include data verification methods
- Confront team members with a different perspective, enabling them to escape potential biases in their perceptions. “Consider a different approach that could have been taken, what might have happened if that approach was chosen?”
- Compare personal actions with similar actions in other situations. “To what extent were our actions this time more or less successful compared to the last time we had a similar hurdle to overcome?”
- Debriefs must be goal-directed and used to identify specific ways to improve work. There needs to be specific learning points and courses of actions at the end of a debrief
- Record the outcomes of the meeting and goals set during the debrief and follow them up
This framework is just that, a framework. Following a dry checklist of how to manage people often doesn’t go well and people can feel like you’re going through the motions without investing the effort. Instead, keep to the framework, but adapt it on a person by person, detail by detail basis. This way people will (correctly) see that this is a two-way process and a true team effort.
In the end that’s all a good debrief is, a structured way for the team, as a whole, to learn, to improve, and to overcome new and ever harder challenges.
- Allen, J. A., Reiter-Palmon, R., Crowe, J., & Scott, C. (2018). Debriefs: Teams learning from doing in context. American Psychologist, 73(4), 504–516.
- Ellis, S., Carette, B., Anseel, F., & Lievens, F. (2014). Systematic Reflection: Implications for Learning From Failures and Successes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(1), 67–72.
- Schippers, M. C., Edmondson, A. C., & West, M. A. (2014). Team Reflexivity as an Antidote to Team Information-Processing Failures. Small Group Research, 45(6), 731–769.