Military leaders are adamant about continuous improvement. They develop systems and communication rhythms to improve with every opportunity. One meeting they use is essential to growth, and it happens after every mission. When I say mission, you may think project, engagement, or campaign in the world of business. These can be internal or external missions. That one meeting is the debrief--a recap of previous performance with the team. The official military name for this is After Action Reviews (AAR).
The debrief is a self-facilitated review of how a team performed and what will make next time better. The debrief is about the measurement of performance. It is NOT about blame. If there is any blame, the leader is the one to take the lead in accepting full ownership of the outcomes of the mission.
Another way to look at the debrief is a moment to hit pause on the day. There is power in reflecting on how you are doing. It is intentional to growth in a collaborative fashion. You should do a debrief when things are going well just as much as you should when things don't go well.
Using the debrief style of meeting in my work with fast-growth companies has given them a faster path to improvement and speeds a transfer of knowledge across all levels of the organization. There are three principles of the successful debrief that can change the way your organization collaborates, grows together and makes an impact on the world.
1. Include Everyone.
All players are included in debriefs with an interactive exchange to identify the good, bad and ugly. You want the mission leader, the key players and any others that support the team at this meeting. When you leave others out, you miss an opportunity for everyone to grow. Many organizations wonder why they have experience at the top of the company yet lack it at the middle and bottom. One reason is they are not including the full team in the moments of reflection and growth.
Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and Start With Why, has worked with military groups to understand leadership principles that can be used in today's organizations. I study the fastest-growing companies in North America to understand their transformative leadership and growth cultures. Here is a place of overlap with Sinek's work and my research: "It is not the genius at the top giving direction that makes people great. It is the great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius," Sinek says.
When your organization takes this to heart, it means that everyone is included in the debriefing meeting to give growth to all of the people. It provides a transfer of information and insight on leadership.
2. Leave Rank at the Door.
When you include everyone from the "mission," you must also set up a meeting for success. Leaders often facilitate the meeting and assert their authority over the team. This sounds like the right thing to do, but in the debriefing, you want to make sure that leaders leave their rank at the door. This is a team meeting where everyone has a different perspective that may lead to new areas for growth.
Rob "Waldo" Waldman is a former Air Force Fighter pilot and author of Never Fly Solo. In other words, Waldman is a real-life top gun pilot and a top gun speaker too. Waldman shared with me insights from his military days that have been useful in helping companies develop a culture of courage. His thoughts on the debriefing? "Leaders must remove their ego." It may seem obvious, but it is not always practiced. "When you leave your rank at the door, you allow others to be open to their mistakes," he says. This may be uncomfortable for many leaders -- and that is precisely why it is an area for improvement.
3. Close Effectively.
Two parts will help end the meeting with clarity and intention. First, the leader will ask for questions. Questions help others understand a complete context of the information exchange. Questions also give insight to areas where leadership must improve to make the next mission more clear.
Second, a concluding statement will help wrap up the main points discussed in the debriefing. Succinctly restate the main ideas presented and make a concluding statement that wraps up the meeting into clear and actionable growth steps.
Waldman not only uses the debrief meeting each and every time he is with his clients to create a more collaborative culture, but he also reinforces this habit with each of his consulting clients on improving their mission debriefs.
Our military leaders are trained in processes like this until they become habits and integrated into their overall performance. We can all learn from these courageous leaders.