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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Debriefing as a Key Element in High Performance Leadership

The importance of debriefing in the high performance environment is an important element of the Positive Leadership model. The leader's role at the centre of the performance cycle, is key to delivering desired results.

‘Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organisational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.’ ~ Andrew Carnegie

Debriefing in an organisation is an important way for the organisation's employees to learn new skills as individuals, as a team and as managers. This article discusses some of the ways in which your organisation might benefit from different methods of debriefing to enhance the lessons that apply to your organisation.

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 organisational 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 organisation?
• 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 organisational team people who will benefit from your learning experience and who can expand upon its import for the rest of the organisation. 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 organisation. 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 organisation. This is not meant to be a confrontational exercise but is a genuine attempt to come to grips with areas of weakness in your organisation 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 bench markers 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 organisational 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?
• Did you see any additional benefits doing it like that as opposed to the traditional way?
• Would you recommend doing X again?
• Do you think it would have had to same outcome if you had done Y?
• Have you had any thoughts 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 organisation 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 organisation operates and the types of expectations under which that organisation 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 organisation 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 organisation. Use every debriefing session to build upon the last, to continuously strive for improvement from the individual level to the wider organisational community.

Don't forget that a "client" should be a very broad concept. Even organisations 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.

Things You'll Need

• A team
• Time set aside specifically for debriefing
• Record-keeping to ensure maintenance of corporate knowledge.

Remember the four key questions in any debriefing:
  1. What was I trying to achieve?
  2. What did I achieve?
  3. If there is a gap between 1 and 2, what caused the gap?
  4. What am I going to do to close the gap?