How to Debrief to Promote Organizational LearningTeamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. Andrew Carnegie
Debriefing in an organization is an important way for the organization's employees to learn new skills as individuals, as a team and as managers. This article discusses some of the ways in which your organization might benefit from different methods of debriefing to enhance the lessons that apply to your organization.
Consider the fact that there are at least four possible means by which one can debrief.Alone, each of these methods has singular utility but they are most successful when combined as an overall strategy for turning an employee's learning experience into an organizational lesson. These methods are:
- Debriefing with oneself
- Debriefing with a team
- Debriefing with a client
- Debriefing with peers
Debrief with oneself.Before taking your learning experience to a wider audience, it is important to go through your experience with yourself. This type of debriefing consists of asking yourself questions about the learning experience and keeping notes. In this way, you not only prepare yourself for sharing the experience more widely, but you also learn about the experience at a deeper level for yourself and hopefully also take this chance to reflect on how you might approach things differently next time if the learning experience was more of a negative one. Questions that you might ask yourself include:
- What did I learn?
- What lessons can I extrapolate from this experience to bring to the organization?
- What was good about this learning experience?
- What was bad about this learning experience?
- How can I build on both the negative and positive aspects of this experience?
Debrief with a team.Select the appropriate organizational team people who will benefit from your learning experience and who can expand upon its import for the rest of the organization. Initially, tell the team about the experience and about what you learned. However, this time you should also aim to elicit team responses to how they perceive the learning event and how they see its applicability to the organization. The team should be made up of individuals who are able to address issues that have been raised and come up with solutions, actions and outcomes.
Debrief with the client.In a situation involving a client, the ability to ask the client about the experience is invaluable. This time, frame the questions using "we" and genuinely seek answers from the client that can help to improve both the client's experience and the working patterns and deliverables of your organization. This is not meant to be a confrontational exercise but is a genuine attempt to come to grips with areas of weakness in your organization and they may well be areas that nobody has considered before or has only danced around. Finally, clients appreciate being asked, so this does a great deal for building a strong relationship. Questions that you might consider asking the client include:
- Did we do a good job for you this time?
- If not, why not and how do you feel we could have made this a better experience for you?
- Are there particular areas that you feel need greater attention?
- What did you like about your experience with us?
- Is there any particular activity or event that you believe is superfluous to the achievement of a good outcome?
Debrief with peers.Peers in your profession are also benchmarkers and innovators. They are watching you and you are watching them. Touch base through networks and exchange ideas and thoughts over recent learning experiences in a broad manner that does not breach client or organizational confidentiality. You can, and should, share experiences with peers. Some may have answers to problems that you are facing, some may appreciate your answers to problems that they are facing. Developing strong relationships even within a competitive context is vital to ensuring that all clients are receiving the best advice, skills and up-to-date information, so it pays back for all of you. Questions that you might consider asking include:
- Why did you resolve X problem in that way?
- What additional benefits did you foresee doing it like that as opposed to the way Y?
- What recommendations would you make to someone doing this same thing?
- What do you think the outcome would have been if you had done Y?
- What thoughts do you have about developing Z instead?
Keep a record of debriefing.Unless you debrief for personal reasons, it is always a good reason to keep file or notebook records of debriefing sessions. That way you, your team and your organization can continue to learn from past lessons and the discussions surrounding these experiences. It will also help you to better recall what each of your clients expects of you in the future and gives you a good indication of how your client's organization operates and the types of expectations under which that organization may be working.
Learn from the debriefing.Don't just stick the notes in the bottom drawer. Pursue the lesson actively and put into practice what you have learned. If you, your team or your organization generally needs extra skills or a change in direction, start implementing the things that need to be done to achieve this. Book yourself into a conflict management course, book team members into an updating seminar on the industry in which you work or make proposals for changes in direction about the ways that things are done, produced, manufactured and delivered within your organization. Use every debriefing session to build upon the last, to continuously strive for improvement from the individual level to the wider organizational community.
- Make sure the client is in a setting that is comfortable.
- Don't forget that a "client" should be a very broad concept. Even in organizations that do not traditionally consider client relations to be a top priority are dealing with clients; for example, a government department has members of the public and members of the department and other departments who can be viewed as clients. A writer at home has readers as clients. There is a client somewhere in all lines of work.
- Consider using a consultant who will have an arms length position; distance in order to increase candidness.
- Keep questions open ended for creative feedback.
- Focus on the positive and reiterate commitment to cultivating a learning culture, sustainable long-term client commitment.
- Ask about their experience of your employees during the process.
Video: Debriefing After Negative Outcomes - the "Second Victim"
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