Creating A Learning Organization: Debriefing is Key

Many of us put a tremendous effort into programs, systems and meetings – Most times we spend more time designing, recruiting and planning the logistics for an event than the action or meeting actually takes. And yet, few of my clients choose to plan and schedule debriefs for all their hard work. The manager of a 500 volunteer effort for an event that lasts over 6 days recently asked to help design a debrief. I asked them how long the event had been happening. 18 years!

There’s a lot of reasons we skip debriefs: We are tired and relieved it’s over! We have other high priority work that’s been waiting for us. We aren’t really sure what we want to ask. We can’t stand the moaning and complaining sessions that debriefs inevitably become.

And yet – there’s so much learning that can come from a solid debrief – plus, our teams get stronger and we learn quickly to be adaptive and incorporate the feedback.

Debriefing meetings, projects, programs, and retreats is key to building team self-awareness, increasing open communication and keeping team culture top of mind. If you are not making time to debrief or self-evaluate, too much will go unsaid and come out sideways!

Here are some easy to use debrief tools – (Pro-Tip: Don’t use them all at the same time!)

  1. The Plus/Delta (change) – a 1 hour meeting format that can be used with a tiny group of 3 to a larger groups of 33. It’s a simple list – what did we like? What do we change? If you prefer to protect anonymity, people can use sticky notes and place them – handwriting is a concern.
  2. Highlights/Lowlights – a 1-3 hour debrief with this as a check in question. Individuals write and then share with 2-3 others or with the whole group. A great way to kick off a longer conversation.
  3. Sweet Questions: This is a fun activity. Get some little candy bars and send them around the table. Everyone picks one or two candies out. Each candy corresponds to a question. Go around the table and ask people to answer the question(s) that is connected to their candy.
  • The best logistical decision we made is:
  • A thing we should NEVER do again:
  • A courageous choice we made was:
  • A thing I learned about this team is:
  • What surprised me the most was:
  • What I learned about myself is:
  1. Meeting Debrief:
    • How did our team get stronger through this process/meeting
    • What is 1 thing you would change about this meeting?
    • What is 1 thing you appreciate about our time together?
    • What were the surprises today?
  1. Surveys! You may choose to send a survey out separately for collecting opinions from your team or, you can send a survey to debrief participants and then share the collective data at an in-person meeting. It’s a great way to step back and look at the wisdom of the team.

Whether you do a long and elaborate 38 question survey or quick 5 question survey, matrix questions are a great way to get a lot of feedback along a similar vein:

  • How effectively did we… (communicate before the event, recruit attendees, plan the food, manage the fundraising, plan the program, etc.)
  • How comfortable were you with … (with your role, with the space, with our final turnout)
  • How satisfied were you with…
  • On a scale of 1-5, how did we….
    • Live into our values?
    • Lift up/center marginalized voices?
    • Use our conflict to innovate?

About Demographics: Asking demographic questions of respondents in debrief survey is one way to demonstrate your commitment to justice. Explain to survey takers why you are asking questions about their identity – “we want to be accountable about our values and so we are asking demographics in order to assess how people’s identities and their experience connect.” If the most satisfied/happy/comfortable people all identify as white or people who have been with the event for several years – that is good information for you to have. Once you examine the data, you can re-set the bar for your next event. You may experience some discomfort as you try to implement this – And I would encourage you and your team to ask “Who benefits from us leaving the demographics out?”

Ultimately, debriefs are a courageous way of building your smarts as a team. It’s a strategic opportunity to learn about your strengths as well as opportunities for improvement. Sometimes, it’s smart to bring in an outside staff person, volunteer or consultant to facilitate the discussion. And whatever you do, remember to add a line to your budget for next year: “debrief meeting.”

Let Us Help: If you want support designing a debrief meeting or need a facilitator – give us a call 336-404-5959

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