Human beings make mistakes, it’s inevitable. Interim mistakes provide valuable learning opportunities and if actioned properly can be used to improve individual and collective performance.
Debriefing was developed by fighter pilots over 60 years ago. The effect of its introduction was so profound the process is still used unchanged today. And in business, organisations that follow a disciplined debriefing process experience improvement in performance of up to 300% percent.
After every mission fighter pilots hold a debrief to reflect on the mission’s performance, identify personal errors and commit to the peer group to fix them. This is achieved by asking three simple questions called the 3 R’s:
1. Result – What is the gap between my current result and the planned objective?
2. Reason – What is the reason for the gap in my performance?
3. Response – What will I do to reduce this gap?
Conceptually the debrief is very simple. In practice it can be challenging, because to properly debrief – that is, to identity the true root cause of a result – requires a commitment to a culture of learning, openness and honesty.
The thorough and candid nature of proper debriefing exposes the truth. Of course, that truth should remain respectful. But make no mistake, debriefing requires an honesty that can be ego-bruising. Once one gets past that truth-telling hurdle though, one finds that such honesty and openness is contagious and spreads to daily behaviors. People stop talking behind each other’s back and actively seek out each other’s advice and opinions. Such is the positive culture shift that debriefing can affect.
Debriefing can also positively support the development of better leaders and more cohesive teams. Debriefing must be led, it doesn’t just happen when you put people together in a room. The success of the debrief is incumbent upon the leader. Debriefing aids leaders in establishing greater trust between themselves and their team.
A proper debrief also builds greater trust between team members because of the openness and honesty demanded of all involved. When a team thoroughly discusses each other’s contribution to the execution of a ask or project they come to know each other and understand each other’s unique challenges and obstacles. Furthermore, they uncover the complexities that challenge them and learn how better to assist each other in managing those challenges.
Although debriefing begins at the very tactical or day-to-day operational level, the practice of debriefing should cascade upward in the organisation. The root causes that are discovered at each level, even when those causes may be ambiguous, can be cross-referenced for recurring root causes. For an organization as a whole, the analysis of recurring root causes is the most powerful continuous improvement tool it may possess. Such analysis provides a capacity to identify or self-diagnose a host of organizational weaknesses.
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