Yesterday I finished watching the recording of the last episode of SAS Australia which so happens to be one of my favourite shows on television. I wrote my reasons why in this post titled: Survival Training.
In the last episode, they brought all the contestants back again for the debrief and it reminded me of this excellent activity that we would do all the time when I was in the Navy.
Debriefs, or otherwise known as After Action Reviews are critical components of the operation, exercise or project you were part of. They were simply part of the process and an opportunity to review, recall and apply lessons learned to the experience.
As well as writing up the report on completion, you were required to present the report and be part of the debrief which many times, lasted LONGER than the actual brief at the start of the exercise.
When I left the Navy and entered the corporate world, there was no such thing as a AAR or at times, it was called PIR (post implementation review). Sure, it would be there as a line in the project plan but in all the projects I have been part of in my 25 years of corporate experience, these were never completed.
The reason stemmed from the fact that you were always put onto the next project so automatically your brain had shifted to this. Sometimes, there would be a celebration and a presentation by the team leader or an acknowledgement by the CEO – maybe even an award given – but to sit down with the same team and pick to pieces every single thing that happened and what they experienced and how lessons could be learned and applied to the next project.
Never. That never happened.
It’s a pity because in companies nowadays, what is missing is this critical piece of reflection and learning from past experiences and projects.
Nothing is as frustrating as not being able to fully close out a program, project or experience with your team, go away with some personal and team lessons learned, share these to others in your company then celebrate the end – all BEFORE you start on new projects.
Otherwise, you may as well be a hamster running on a wheel.
The Debrief Funnel
One of the methods of debrief we used in the Navy was the model by Priest and Naismith 1993 which was the Funnel of Experiences.
This was a method I used on all my team projects when we had to go through some kind of experience. For example, I used it after putting my cadets through the High Ropes Course during their Orientation; it was used on me through my entire Basic Officer Training. I also used it multiple times through my Navy career with my teams.
The model looks like a funnel where you spend more time reviewing, recalling and remembering before sifting down the elements like a filter, where you then reflect on the effects and affects, then summarise what you learned and how you would apply this in your life. The last phase was committing to an action to change.
I loved this framework because everyone was committed to learning – the facilitators, the observers and the participators. Every person on the team had an opportunity to recall, remember and review instances that occurred through the event, prompted by the facilitators. It means that the facilitators have an INVESTMENT in the process because they’re OBSERVING and taking notes throughout the entire time on every individual on the team.
The questioning becomes specific as over time, the individuals open up and share more. It means they don’t give the process lip service because the facilitator asks for specific examples AND pick out each individual to respond and share their experience.
The second funnel is where the responses get filtered further to think about the EFFECT of that occurence and how it made them FEEL. This is where they start to open up.
The third phase is to sum up what they learned from this – so the idea is that you keep drilling down on that same aspect.
The fourth phase is application. How do they see a connection to their every day life and how are they going to apply this learning in a new way.
Last of all, is what are they going to do differently to commit to a change?
This way, each individual has a way of mentally processing the experience and coming out of it as a new person, with a new mindset and with actions that they can apply. Mentally, they are ready for the next challenge and can put this behind them now.
A Fictional Example
Q: Helen, let’s review the cross country run you had to do today. I saw that it was pretty tough for you. What was going through your head at the time?
A: I remember not wanting to go because I knew I was going to be the last person in my team and be right at the back while they all rushed ahead of me. I also knew that as we had to complete the run as a team that I was going to let everyone down, again. It was a hard slog. I didn’t think I could make it.
Q: Helen, why would you think this way? What happened in the past to make you think this way?
A: Well it’s happened before hasn’t it? Every cross country run I struggle. You’ve seen it. My team has seen it.
Last week’s run was the worst where I failed to make the time set by the staff and then all my team were punished so they had to run the course again the next day!
I felt like crap because it was my fault. My team was pissed off with me . I didn’t want that to happen again.
Q. So what was the effect of you thinking this way before the cross country run?
Initially I started feeling sorry for myself but then I thought ‘well, I have to do it, there’s no way out of it’ and I thought I have to step up and just keep going when I want to stop.
Something clicked in my head that I’m not going to have what happened last week and let my team down like this. It was like a little angry person sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear. No I couldn’t let this happen to my team again. No way.
The other thing that helped is my team turned to me just before the run and gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder and said, “You got this Helen!”
Q: And how did that affect the way you ran Helen?
Well it helped me a lot surprisingly.
The good words from my team members pushing me meant that I didn’t feel alone at the back of the pack, forgotten and isolated.
When Joe and Jane dropped to the back with me around the half way mark and ran with me, it really spurred me on. I started to get into a cadence. It seemed that I was part of the group – and yet, I know that Joe and Jane were actually going slower than what they’re used to. They were helping me!
Having them give me words of encouragement made me think more about the run and less about the pain or my brain telling me I can’t finish it. Also, it made me run harder because I didn’t want to let Joe and Jane down for helping me like this. It was time to step up.
Q: So how would you sum your experience of the run today?
Surprisingly, it was easier than the last one. Sure, there was a lot of heavy breathing and I got a stitch but overall, it was a lot easier.
It also made me think that maybe the difficulty was in my head?
When things get tough for me, I don’t like it when the team rushes ahead and leaves me isolated and at the back. I feel like a hindrance to them and then my brain just starts with the negative thoughts that I can’t do it.
Sometimes, I need words of encouragement just to keep me going because my brain is my worst enemy. I also realised that I need to get fitter and thought if I can ask Joe to help me out as my running partner so I’m more comfortable next time.
Q: How would you apply this experience to life Helen?
It made me realise a lot of things about how when I come to difficulties in life, I tend to make myself invisible and hide away.
The negativity seems to cloud my brain and then I just start to make excuses and it seems to be a self-perpetuating cycle of failure and confirmation of failure.
The cross country run today made me realise that I’m not a runner but I can at least be part of a team and at times, I’m my own worst enemy and I need to change this.
I see the others enjoying the run and I think, I need to change my mindset. I also need words of encouragement from my peers because it helps not just with me completing the course – but knowing that I’m a valued member of the team.
Q: Knowing all this now, what will you do differently?
Like I mentioned, I see Joe is an excellent runner but he told me that he had to work hard to get to this point. I’m going to ask him to be my running partner and tell me how he overcame this and put into practice any pointers he tells me. I look up to Joe and if he can do, so can I. I spoke to him about it after the run and he mentioned that he’s going out for a jog tomorrow morning. I’m going to go with him.
So the Debriefing Funnel is an excellent way to debrief an experience and to help support someone to learn from it.
Is this of value to you? How can you see it working in your work situation?