Debriefing Roger Greenaway

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Practical debriefingRoger Greenaway

Top tips1 Ask What else? To get beyond peoples initial responses to a question, try asking: What else did you notice? What else were you thinking? What else went well? Ask Why? Why? Why? To analyse success or failure more deeply, just keep asking Why? This may seem very aggressive. Explain in advance why you will keep asking Why? (and be ready to face the Why? challenge yourself). The responder may stop the process at any point without explanation. This works well as a paired exercise. Review anywhere, any time Reviewing little and often is part of the culture in BP-Amoco, Motorola and General Electric. After Action Reviews are embedded into their way of working. The little and often principle also applies to training programmes. Quick, impromptu debriefs can be even more powerful than the scheduled ones. Use both. 5 Provide notebooks Learning from experience cannot be recorded in advance. Provide notebooks for recording experiences, ideas and applications. Provide guidance about note-taking and the time to do it well. Use review tasks If participants respond well to tasks but less well to debriefs, make the debrief a task. The task can be to create a news report, Mind Map or flow chart, or to prepare a demonstration showing what they would keep or change if doing the same task again. Keep moving If people always sit in the same seats, they can both look and feel stuck. Keep changing the group dynamics, use subgroups, vary the review tasks, change the pace and style. Keep some routines, but remember that you wont break the mould by staying in one. Review the review You will become better at debriefing if you regularly review your debriefing sessions. So review the reviews as well as the training exercises. Everyone will benefit. Use several models There is no single model that is so superior that it should be followed to the exclusion of others. There are more good ways of learning than can be captured in any single model.





Key learning pointsq Avoid common problems. q Fully engage participants. q Design debriefing sessions. q Develop learning skills. q Improve the transfer of learning.

Why debrief?q

To help create a learning culture. To add value to what is happening. To find out what people are experiencing. To help people learn from their experiences. To develop peoples learning skills. To help people achieve their objectives. To make benefits more tangible. To assist the process of evaluation. To assist the transfer of learning into the workplace. The amazing learning abilities of the human species seem to be matched by an almost equal capacity to avoid learning. Fear of the unknown can smother the curiosity and ambition that drives learning. So can the lingering habits of an education tradition that teaches passive learners, and shows little interest in what they experience. Effective debriefing must help learners overcome their resistance to change and tap into their innate desire to learn. Whose questions? Ideally it is learners own curiosity that drives the learning process. So find the right balance between asking questions and generating questions. Trainer debriefing skills Participant reviewing skills




After Action Review 1 2 3 4 What was supposed to happen? What actually happened? Why were there differences? What did we learn? 9


About debriefingThe main purpose of debriefing is to generate learning from experience. Debriefing typically follows training exercises or work projects that have been briefed. But there are really no limits to the kinds of experiences to which debriefing skills can be applied. All experience, whether or not it is the result of a planned activity, is a potential source of learning especially if it is debriefed well. In this article, debriefing means the facilitation of learning from experience, and mostly refers to what the trainer does; whereas reviewing means learning from experience, and mostly refers to what the learner does. What the learner is doing matters far more than what the trainer is doing. Skilled debriefing results in participants being fully engaged in reviewing their experiences.TRAIN the TRAINER Issue 21 q




Ask What worked well? However good or bad the performance, it is good to acknowledge what worked well and to trace the causes. Performance improvement comes from studying success as well as from studying failure.



10 Be a model The most important model is you. Find opportunities to demonstrate that you are learning from experience. Join in some of your own reviewing exercises. Seek feedback at suitable opportunities. Taste some of your own medicine.

The importance of debriefingIt is widely recognised that learning from experience is the most powerful kind of learning. But much of this power remains untapped. Many excellent opportunities for learning and development pass by, because experiences are not reviewed well or are not reviewed at all. Debriefing seizes such opportunities and makes time for learning from experience.

Just think! Reviewing saves money. Think of the consequences of not learning from experience for the individual and for their organisation. BP saves millions of dollars through regular After Action Reviews. Can anyone afford not to review?


Participant experiences

Dr Roger Greenaway provides training and consultancy throughout the UK and worldwide for developing practical debriefing and facilitation skills. You can find his articles, his tips newsletter, his research findings and his book reviews at his Active Reviewing website. Reviewing Skills Training, 9 Drummond Place Lane, Stirling FK8 2JF Telephone: 01786 450968 E-mail: Website: the TRAINER Fenman Limited 2004

Practical debriefing

Questions and answers about debriefingNot enough timeReview time just disappears. How can I protect time for debriefing? Try this programme change. Instead of following the normal pattern: Brief > Exercise > Debrief > Break; try moving the break so that each session starts with a debrief. The new sequence becomes: Debrief > Brief > Exercise > Break. The benefits of this change include:q

means learning from mistakes. Demonstrate that learning from success happens too, by asking questions that focus on success. Instead of asking What did you learn? (which may sound like an invitation to report on what went wrong), try asking What did you achieve and how? As well as asking What would you do differently next time?, try asking What would you do the same next time? As well as asking What do you need to work on?, also try What strengths and resources can you use more effectively? A simple strategy for restoring the balance is to create a simple temporary rule: As this review was so negative, lets balance it with a positive only rule in the next review. For balance within a session, try this turntable discussion (see Figure 1). Half the group may make only positive comments about the team performance. They sit facing the other half, who may only criticise the team performance. For a 10-minute

review with 10 people, everyone moves one place to the left as each minute passes. As each individual moves to the opposite side, they adopt the views of the side they are joining. This means that each participant spends equal time on each side of the debate.

listening, leadership and so on. Everyone appears to be agreeing because the answers are at such an abstract level. There are many ways of getting down to more concrete levels. Try scaling (see Figure 2). Pick one of the topics and convert it into a question that can be answered on a scale of 010; for example: How good was the teams planning? or How pleased am I with my own role in the planning? This starts as a pencil-and-paper exercise, but is best shared in a physical way by creating a curved spectrum on which people then stand. The curve helps to give everyone a clear view of each others position. This sets the stage for a more concrete (and more interesting) group discussion. Also try asking participants to re-stage significant moments. These might be examples of communication at its best, communication at its worst and an interesting moment of communication. Everyone recalls the chosen moment and returns to the position they were in at the time. Once in position, time is frozen (as if a video replay is on freeze frame), and people are invited to ask questions about what they were thinking or feeling

or wanting or predicting at the time. This often brings out new information that will deepen a groups understanding of what was really happening at these highlighted moments. Such exercises in concrete awareness help to test or fill out the abstract clichs.

Too loud and too quietA few people dominate. How can I get more balanced participation? This is a common problem in groups, and it is even more of a problem if it happens in debriefing sessions. At its worst, no one is reflecting on experience: the quieter, reflective people are having their thoughts crowded out by the dominant people; the dominant people are jumping in, without taking time to reflect before talking. There are many remedies, most of which involve not going into wholegroup discussion until everyone has had a good opportunity to reflect on their own or with a partner. When the whole group do meet together, the quieter people have had time to prepare what they want to say, and the louder people will be making a more thoughtful contribution to the discussion. Another strategy that generates more balanced participation is to vary the style of reviewing, so that the overall variety of reviewing techniques plays to everyones strengths and