Debrief or Repeat

leadership developmentDebrief, post-mortem or oil change – no matter what you call it, it needs to be done. It is the final step to any project, initiative, strategy or action that more than one person was involved in. The purpose of the debrief is to understand what went well, what didn’t go well and what you would do differently next time. As a leader, it is a perfect opportunity to teach others how to lead, how to learn and how to save time and resources by always working to do better the second time around.

So why do we resist the debrief? Often times it’s because we don’t want to look in the mirror and see what we did wrong. However, the problem with that is we don’t learn from our mistakes, and we are therefore destined to repeat them until we finally figure them out.

How Do You Handle the Debrief?

  • Some leaders agonize over the debrief, and take responsibility, (both good and bad,) for any outcome. While this may be noble, it does not provide any instruction or way to improve, and in fact, makes the leader a bit of a martyr.
  • Another ineffective strategy for the debrief is to have it take on the tone of a “whose to blame” meeting, which will prevent any constructive conversation from happening.
  • A similar ineffective debrief strategy is for one team member to write up the results in a vacuum and send them out. This is a one sided monologue and although it may include facts, it does not include the ideas others may have for solutions or different ways of accomplishing the goals.

As the leader, in the debrief process it’s your job to ask the questions without embedding any answers:

  • State the purpose of the project or initiative
  • What went well?
  • Was it aligned with the purpose?
  • What did not go well?
  • What could have been different?
  • Lessons learned?

Another important item to add, depending upon the project is, “who do we have to celebrate?” I would not suggest including this every time, but as appropriate. After you have done a couple of these debriefs with your team, let someone else lead the process. A good debrief should be quick, concise and have actionable items that can be used now or on a future project. The first few will take a little longer, but once you get the process down, 15 minutes should be the norm. The other side benefit to debriefs is that your team will start to internalize the process, and start doing them with smaller, less complicated projects and keep continuous improvement going all the time.

What have you got to lose? 15-20 minutes after a 30 day project? It’s not a lot of time for a potentially large benefit and an invaluable teaching opportunity. If you choose not to do it, just remember that you are losing the opportunity to find out what you did well or could have done better and are therefore doomed to repeat the failures or accidental successes. Debriefs are a powerful and relatively simple investment in your future success.

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