Debriefing Part 2: What’s that all about?

Have you ever heard someone say “Let’s debrief” or “We’ll finish today by debriefing” but ever really understood what that meant? In this article we’re going to explore some rules for debriefing and a few basic tips for success.

Have you ever heard someone say “Let’s debrief” or “We’ll finish today by debriefing” but ever really understood what that meant?  Sometimes debriefing happens and we don’t even know it! In this series of articles by Michigan State University Extension we’ll explore what debriefing is, some techniques for debriefing, age appropriate debriefing, and some best practices.

Remember that debriefing is a conversation that is had to share and examine information based on a meeting, event, or activity that has recently taken place. It’s done with a facilitator who has carefully considered the questions they would like to ask during the debrief to obtain information that is useful for advancing the event or the team. Often times that facilitator will consider using questions based on who, what, when, where and why. Rules are often helpful to setting the context and tone of the debrief. The Holden Leadership Center at the University of Oregon suggests the following rules for debriefing:

  • Honor confidentiality
  • Give unconditional respect to self and others
  • Participate as much as possible
  • Speak only for oneself, not others
  • Be open and honest with group members
  • Be silent if it feels right
  • Stop the discussion if a rule is being broken and restate the rule

Once the rules are established, it’s helpful for the facilitator to consider some tips for success.  Jason Womack from explains that the two most important outcomes to debriefing are, to learn and hold onto what works and to share and teach best practices. He suggests that debriefing sessions should be used as an opportunity to learn, and grow, and think bigger. Acknowledge completion of your last project, celebrate the win (if there was one) and move on, ready to make your best efforts even better next time. He continues in his article to provide three basic tips for debriefing:

  • Adopt a learner’s mindset: “Better next time” does not necessarily mean we didn’t do our best this time. One reason some people tend to avoid the debrief is because of their focus on results and momentum. If something went well, they’re already on to the next thing. If something failed, they usually try to fix, make up, and move on as fast as possible. When you start your next project debrief, remind yourself and your team that the feedback you bring to this discussion is useful now for the project completed, and for the next project you’re going to take on.
  • Make a post-project checklist: Build a multipoint action list- post project. If you’ll ever do this project or one like it again, now is the time to learn from the past experience. One definition of the word checklist is a type of informational job aid used to reduce failure by compensating for potential limits of human memory and attention. This step helps to ensure consistency and completeness in carrying out a task.
  • Communicate your debriefing results effectively: The next project you work on will go much more smoothly, especially if you’re debriefing with people you’ll be working with again. During the course of the project, whether it was just a week-long effort or much longer, you undoubtedly had discussions (in person, via phone, or online) and need to communicate as effectively as possible. Remember there are many different ways people communicate. Some common strengths are: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. 

Don’t forget to take a look at the first article in this series on debriefing that discussed the origination of debriefing, the definition, and some key principles for good debriefing.

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